Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Along the Rhine

Our boat returns to pick us up at St. Goar
Just across river from Bingen
We're now in Bingen, Germany, along the Rhine River, after a long drive much of it on autobahn, most of it in traffic around Frankfurt am Main. Today, we spent a beautiful day on a riverboat along the Rhine River, up and back, along a really beautiful section of the Rhine, from Bingen (home of Hildegard von Bingen, a 12 century Abbess, saint, mystice &seer, healer and outspoken woman for her day) to St. Goar and the Rheinfels Castle. This whole section of the Rhine dotted with castles, some dating from well before `1000 AD, and little towns dating back to before the Roman times. Most began with the true "robber Barons" who found good spots along the very busy Middle Age trading route, built "customs houses" to collect "tolls" and the castles to ensure that tolls were paid. A large chain was used to persuade ships to stop and pay up, otherwise, the chain would rip the wooden boats apart in the strong river current. It appears to have been quite a profitable enterprise. Many of the castles were property of various Archbishops and other well-connected individuals and were often the sight of many a siege or assault. Vineyards have been here since the Romans came here before the Current Era. We were also lucky to have a break in the otherwise dreary, cold fall weather with partial sunshine for much of the trip. Beautiful fall colors of the deciduous trees along the river added to the specialness of the day. The day topped off with a wonderful meal on the boat, some local wine and a coffee with local brandy. Tom even managed to get in a visit to local museum for the last 1/2 hour which had an exhibit on the writings of Hildegard. Tomorrow we head toward Cologne, and then on to Amsterdam, arriving on Friday. We want to have a few last days in Amsterdam for sights missed in the earlier visit. We saved a few museums until this last week. It doesn't seem possible that this wonderful trip is almost over, but it will feel really good to get back to the motor home, our friends and family, our comfortable bed, and the recliners and the internet. We've about run ourselves into the ground.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Munich and a happy reunion!

The entry gate at Dachau Concentration Camp, "Work makes (you) free"

10-30-07 Update from along the Rhine in Bingen...Finally found an internet connection so will send this along...more to come on our last week's trip from here on to Amsterdam. BTW, spent day on a boat cruise along the Rhine leaf peepin' at fall color and castles. Incredible, too, that we saw first blue sky in over a week today.

Written: 10-28-07
We just left Munich, Germany, where it's still cold and drizzly, well, cold and damp at least, not too much drizzle today. It's beginning to feel a lot like winter, no snow here; but the raw damp is palpable, like it was in our Pennsylvania winters. Can't complain, though; we've had wonderful weather for most all of this trip, and we knew when we started back north toward Amsterdam the last week or two we might run into some bad weather. Like we gambled on a mild fall, and lost. Hasn't dampened our spirits, although it is taking its' toll on creaky joints and summer-oriented wardrobe.

Munich, of course, has had a long, colorful and prosperous history since it started as a monastery in the 12th century. It's the home of BMW and Siemens, the Octoberfest and so many other monuments, galleries and Royal Residences. More recently it's where Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party really got their start and became powerful. The Munchen Stadtmuseum (City Museum) had a wonderful exhibits about the history of Munich with a special section devoted to how the National Socialists came to power. We tend to forget that Hitler and the Nazis were freely elected, which should be a lesson for all democracies. The exhibit did a wonderful job of showing how conditions after the first World War, plus the Depression caused severe economic conditions in Germany creating lots of uncertainity in the population. More interesting was how the Nazis used these events, along with zealous nationalism and patriotism to establish an atmosphere of fear and distrust among the general populaton. The would then exploit these fears and prejudices against any perceived enemy of the party and the Fatherland which included the Jews, Jehovah'sWitnesses, homosexuals, political liberals, oppostion newspapers and anyone who stood to challenge or even question them. They created these scapegoats, and set about to establish a government where 'law and order' and safety were of highest priority. Tolerance was perceived as weakness. It was noted that minor city clerks were soon promoted to high city and later national posts because of their loyal membership in the National Sociatist Party. Competence and qualifications for a position gave way to loyalty and party activity and was first demonstrated in Munich.

We had lunch at the Hofbrau, a Munich beer hall where Adolph Hitler made many of his impassioned speeches. Just realizing that you were in the same room looking at the same walls, walking on the same floor, where Hitler and the Nazis drummed up support for their ideas, was sobering. I think this has impressed us both on this trip, being places where historical figures and happenings were, some from so long ago, like the Pantheon and Colesseum in Rome, and some recent like this. Makes them into real people in your mind somehow, whether it's Galileo, Hitler, Michelangelo or Julius Caesar.
We spent another day touring Dachau concentration camp and the accompanying museum. Such a sobering reminder of man's capacity for evil. It didn't help that the day was glowering, grey and bone chilling cold. To see the place and to see all the photos and a documentary film about it, and to realize that it wasn't even the worst of the camps was a wringing emotional experience. But, somehow, it didn't seem right to come here without acknowledging it, and bearing witness to all that was done there.

We also did a bus tour around Munich, saw the City Hall (Rathaus) with its incredible clock with two sets of animated figures move about, one set of lifesize dolls that dances in comemoration of the end of the Plague in the 16th century, and the other a full joust on horseback to comemorate a wedding where one of the principals from Austria was hit by the lance. The glockenspiel is being repaired, so while the figures dance, there is no music at the moment to accompany them, alas. Interesting, historical, free but still very cold! It's not that it is so incredible in this modern world of Walt Disney animations, but when you realize they are hundreds of years old, and represent a master's clockmaking art, it's pretty neat.

We've certainly come away from this trip with an appreciation of really good mass transit systems, that's for sure. While we haven't had opportunity to travel on one of the 'fast trains', we have seen several of them, and the local trains we have taken have been convenient, clean and easy to use. I can only imagine how much more liveable our US cities would be with more. You never have to wait more than a few minutes for a train or bus, and you can get absolutely anywhere easily on them. We had been going to drive out to Dachau, when we realized that we could get public transportation right from the corner down from the campground to the door of the camp, easily and quickly, for a few Euros, so we took the train and enjoyed a nice ride through the suburbs and out into the countryside outside Munich.

Also while in Munich, on a whim and a hunch Tom was able to find and make contact with his German "sisters and mother" from the time he lived with the family when he was an exchange student in Bolivia some 40 years ago. It was the greatest moment to meet up again after contact had been lost over 10 years ago. We visited, talked and remembered life and friends in SantaCruz, Bolivia so long ago, and what our lives were today. It was the first of hopefully many visits.

And now the time is getting short as are the days. We haven't seen the sun in over a week and must start the trip north to Amsterdam. Today we drove to the walled city of Rothenburg On Der Tauber, near Wurzburg in northern Bavaria. This was where not much ever happened, so nobody stormed the city walls or destroyed much, to the benefit of tourists today. The Reformation did happen here, as it was started not to far to the west in the early 16th century. The central cathedral here is Evangelical Lutheran today and has been since 1527 even though the rest of the Bayern State (Bavaria and Munich) are predominantly Roman Catholic. The city was beautiful to walk through, first the gate, then the narrow streets to the Market Platz, City Hall and public fountains, and later passed many small shops with art work, clothes, foods and gifts all with the tourist in mind. However, the majority of tourists here are German out for a Sunday drive. The campgrounds are nearly empty and the temperatures are near freezing nightly. What are we doing here???
That's it for now, on to the Rhine and then the Nederlands.

Happy trails from along the road.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Tyrolian Alps

Nancy and new friend at Piazza San Marcos

Tom and Nancy enjoying favorite pastime, sidewalk cafe people research, cappucino and tea optional.

Sunday morning in the Dolomites

Sunday early afternoon along Italian alps

Sunday late afternoon at Brennen Pass

Sunday 10/21/07: Greetings from Innsbruck, Austria
Though they were cold but gorgeous blue skies this morning, we gambled and drove on north to Austria crossing the Brennen pass in light and blowing snow/rain. Arrived late afternoon after dawdling about in the Alps with occasional stops by streams and ruins for pictures and snacks. We tend to drive slowly, even in our regular on the road lifestyle, so for us a long day can be 200kilometers/140 miles. Have internet connection via the campground wifi network so will catch up on news and emails. More rain/snow tomorrow so will probably stay put before moving up to Munich. Guess I'll never wear those shirt sleeve shirts now:)

10/20/07: from Cortina D'Ampezzo, IT Writing this missive with a cup of hot chocolate while the north winds blow and the temperature drops below freezing...a very cold first for us in many years! We are in the Dolomites or the Italian Alps near the Austrian border at 1200 meters (and 46Nlatitude) near an upscale Italian ski resort, before the snow but after the summer fun. Not many of us here. On the map it looked like a shorter route from our last venue, Venice to Munchen (Munich) Germany. Very scenic, but...

What can we say about Venice except that we loved it even more than Rome and Florence.......this city, which has never known the automobile, was just so beautiful and alive that it's hard to find words to describe it. So many of the buildings have an arabesque influence with vaulted windows, latticework, etc from years as a Byzantine vassal state and as an active trading republic with the Levant and China. (remember Marco Polo?) Of course, the incredible network of canals and watching how the transport of goods and people and the daily business of a city was conducted without the use of busses, trucks or cars was really interesting. We toured the Doge's Palace (the titular head of the Venetian Republic) which, while it didn't rival Versailles, was really beautiful in its' own right. There was also an exhibit of ancient Islamic art there, and seeing the intricate metalwork, gold jewelry, hand illuminated Korans, paintings and rugs, some of which was thousands of years old, up until almost modern times made you realize how young our country really is. This trip has really makes you rethink ideas of what constitutes an 'antique', that's for sure.

We stayed in a campground across the lagoon from the city of Venice, at Punta Sabbioni on the Adriatic Sea. They have a great deal for tourists where you can buy a pass for the ferryboats for periods of 24 or 36 hours or more, and can then just ride all the ferryboats you want, as well as the canal water buses. And did we get our money's worth! We rode the ferry to the neighboring islands of Burano noted for Venetian lace and Murano noted for Venetian glassware and beads. We rode the canal boat through the Grand Canal which runs the length of the main city area of Venice. We watched folks being ferried around in gondolas, but at about $140 a pop realized that we could enjoy watching them every bit as much as riding in one ourselves, looking as silly as the people in them did to us. We spent the difference eating seafood in little sidewalk cafes along a canal watching the world go by.
You just don't realize how much noise and pollution cars and busses cause in a city until you find yourself in somewhere like Venice, where it's quiet, even with the bustle of people and commerce going on about you. It's also clear that global warming and sea level changes have made quite an impact on the folks here, too. All around is evidence of an incredible construction effort to build up a seawall for the lagoon in which the 118 islands which constitute the "city" of Venice occupy. There will also be a raisable seawall like in the Netherlands which can be deployed to protect the city from tidal surges during storms, which have become more of a problem in recent years. Venetian citizens are being asked to reduce their energy use by 30% to do their part as well. A very interesting project operating in the background of region that makes its living from nearly 20 million visitors a year!

At any rate, it was hard to drag ourselves away, but the clock is ticking, the road is long heading northward and we have a plane to catch in a few weeks. It was much more scenic coming this way north, through the Italian Alps, than it was coming through the Alps southward through Switzerland because not so much of the road is in tunnels (although there are still plenty). Although there are a lot of hairpin turns and steep drops, at least you can see some spectacular scenery. In Switzerland, it was almost all tunnels, with the road just emerging from one tunnel for a few hundred meters only to plunge into yet another. This was much more scenic, and more hair raising, too!

Some observations from our travels thus far: every country we have been in, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy has had much more serious recycling programs than we usually find in the states. In the campgrounds, so much is separated for recycling (including all your organic waste, banana peels, veggie trimmings, etc, for compost), that hardly anything is left to be landfilled. There is much less excess packaging on things such as foodstuffs and household supplies in the stores as well, and you just don't seem to produce even a fraction of the trash that we do in the U.S. We first noticed this in the fact that the trashcans are really small, and then we realized that you recycle so much, there just isn't much left. Here in Italy, you can even take your glass wine bottles to a faucet in the grocery store and fill them with your choice of wines for everyday use, using the same containers over and over. In many stores you are charged for a grocery bag(s) to carry home you purchases if you don't bring one of your own. It makes SO much sense.

The food is really high quality with much less prepared and junk foods than we're used to, even in highway quickie-type markets. Europe allows no genetically modified foods, no growth hormones in dairy business, much of the agriculture is organic, and the small farmer and livestock raiser appears king rather than huge agribusiness corporations. Yet food does not seem to be a bit more expensive than at home, and often is even cheaper. Eating out in restaurants is expensive, but buying food in the market and stores and cooking your own is inexpensive, yet quality is amazing. People tend to buy food more often, in smaller amounts and the food must be fresh. The consumer probably won't stand for red rock tomatoes and tasteless peaches, and what is offered reflects that. It's just a pleasure to go into a market, a real feast for the eyes and as well for the palate. We've also noticed how present agriculture is in village and city life here. We were surprised to see crops growing within 10 kms of downtown Rome! All the cities and villages are abutted by fields of cereal crops or vegetables, and in dairy areas, cows are in pastures.

Another thing is litter. While we have seen quite a bit of litter in Italy, especially in the big cities, compared to the rest of Europe, even in Italy, the litter and graffiti is much less than we've observed in the States. In the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, we seen none at all. Also, the almost complete absence of billboards on the highways makes a pleasant relief from the constant bombardment of advertising we get at home. There are signs, yes, and advertising, but it is much less obtrusive than here, and the highways are mostly blessedly free of signage other than the road signs.

It's hard not to form the opinion that, I hate to say it, but it just seems more civilized somehow. It's an older, more "mature" region in many ways. People seem to have more of a great sense of community responsibility and of taking responsibility personally for maintaining a clean and wholesome space, and yet a very open and tolerant attitude to differences. There is a huge diversity, with lots of new people from North and West Africa, the former Eastern European nations, India, etc. coming into the European Union; unfortunately, too, there is a growing nationalist backlash in some areas, just take a look at the outcome of todays vote in Switzerland.
And, of course, there are public transporation systems everywhere, even in Italy, which is a relatively poorer country compared with much of the rest of Western Europe. Practically anywhere, you can stand on the street corner and within a very few minutes, a bus, tram or train will appear to take you wherever you want to go. In Italy, the trains may be older but the system is still worlds better than most anywhere in the U.S. with the possible exception of New York, etc. (Although France has been having it's problems the last day or so with a transportation workers strike....SO glad that wasn't going on when we were in Paris).
That's it for this update. Let us know what you think and any suggestions of places or spaces always appreciated.
Happy trails from the tom and nancy roadshow.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Firenze, Italy (Florence)

Greetings from along the Adriatic across the lagoon from Venice. Just arrived and settling in before we cross into the island city by passenger ferry in the morning. A big high point these last few days, hanging out with Galileo and Michelangelo, in Florence. We arrived here late this afternoon from Florence or Firenze as it's really named in Italy.

What can you say about the three days we spent in Florence other than that it was wonderful. We stayed at Camping Michelangelo up on a hill overlooking the city of Florence and the River beautiful. A campground among the olive trees just a short bus ride down the hill into downtown Florence. That is the neat thing about campgrounds here in Europe. They are right in or extremely close to all the cities, unlike in the U.S. where they would be miles and miles away. A bus or tram usually comes right by the entrance of the campground every fifteen minutes or so, ready to whisk you wherever you want to go in the city....SO civilized. Sometimes you can even walk from the campground right into whatever city you're located in. The campground in Paris was right along the Seine, for example, right in the city.

At any rate, was awed into silence by seeing both Galileo's house, and by paying homage at his tomb in Florence. To actually realize and feel the fact that these were real people, who lived, worked and walked around in these places, such as Galileo just humbles me, somehow. Tom went to the Museum of Science one morning and was able to see two of the telescopes actually used by Galileo, as well as his finger, carefully preserved (the one he used to polish the lenses of his telescopes, and which was cut from his body when he died, and saved). (Nancy's had to miss a few things such as that due to just pooping out, exhausted, while Tom still had some energy, so she didn't get to see that). His tomb is in the Basilica of Santa Croce (Holy Cross) in Florence, which is kind of funny in the extreme, him being entombed in a church, when at the time of his death, he was considered a heretic, excommunicated and not even allowed to be buried in any "holy" place. However,the story is that the Franciscan monks hid his body for a number of years,in defiance of the Pope and the Church in Rome, it is believed they kept it in the sacristy of this Franciscan church, Santa Croce, and some many decades later, built the tomb in the church where his remains now lie. Of course, it took the Church in Rome another five hundred years to admit that he was right and they were wrong. The earth really DID revolve around the sun!

He shares his place of burial with some other personages of note, and we paid homage to them as well, Michelangelo, Dante, Rossini and Machiavelli, among others. Just so amazing to realize that you're standing right next to the bones of these people.

We went to see Michelangelo's statue of David.......absolutely incredible.......the genius that could take a block of marble so huge (5 meters long) and end up with that work where David virtually lives and breathes was amazing. I sat there nearly a half hour just looking at him. How marble can convey such fluid grace, vulnerability and beauty and bring David literally alive before your eyes. So beautiful........Michelangelo did this work when he was young, also, which makes it even more amazing.

We have discovered Italian gelato, (ice cream), which has to be the most delectable ice cream in the world, sold everywhere, and which has spoiled us forever in the ice cream department. The ingredients were universally much the same: cream, milk, sugar, and whatever flavoring. Yesterday Nancy had coconut and I had pine nut and amaretto. These delicacies are not large servings, but are incredibly satisfying and oh so tasty.

Lots of tourists in Florence, just like in Rome, and we anticipate that Venice will be the same. Every tourist presently touring in the world must be in one of these few cities. They certainly weren't in any other of the cities we visited. Even in Paris, we were able to walk right into the Louvre, no lines, no waiting, but in Rome and Florence, tourists were running out of the woodwork. To get into the museum where Michelangelo's David was took an hour or more of waiting in line just to get in. Although taking photos was not allowed, and there were stentorian women guards louding proclaiming, NO PHOTOS, Tom managed to snap a couple and he was not alone as most people were sneaking photos themselves. They want you to buy the photos they have for sale, because it isn't that photos are going to damage a marble statue.

We of course visited several other churches and a cathedral of note, toured the town's tourist and historical sites, enjoyed (Tom) a stop into a hardware store and food market and enjoyed a capuccino (decaf, of course) and pizza at several of the many trattorias and ristorantes.

We are heading north after this, through the Alps and up into Germany. Not looking forward to the colder weather we'll find up there. This time in Italy in the warmth and sunshine has been wonderful. In three weeks or so, we'll be back in the desert southwest. For Nancy somehow, finding herself right next to Galileo was a real high spot and there's still more to go. Perhaps we'll get to meet Otzi in Bolzano, IT...remember he's the 5000 year old "iceman" found in the Alps a few years ago.........but all in all we have to say that we're looking forward to getting back to bore all of you with countless photos.....Happy trails and much love, tom and nancy

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ciao Roma!

(l: Nancy at Trevi fountain, r: Nancy looking longingly through a store window at a "real bed"...remember the van bed and the torture bar!)

It's a beautiful Saturday morning here in Rome, and we are taking the morning off for daily life, washing hair, doing laundry, etc. After two hard days of sightseeing in Rome, we deserve it! Then, this afternoon, we'll take the computer with us on the train into town and try to find a place to send this. They have computers at the campground, but our computer won't connect with their wireless system, somehow. We've tried everything, even emails to HP from their computer, and stopping into a computer store yesterday to ask for advice. The computer says we are connected, it accepts the password, but the darned thing just won't work on the system. Very frustrating, because otherwise, we could just sit here in the rig and surf like in Freiburg, Germany.

We finally tore ourselves away from the Mediterranean in Levanto, and made our way across part of Tuscany, toward Rome, last Wednesday. It was our intent to stop and visit the walled city of Volterra and then to stay a night in Siena before getting to Rome, but the gods had other plans for us. When we got to Volterra, where you have to park outside the city walls, we could NOT find a single parking place, although we drove round and round and through every parking lot. Not tourists, but the cars of the local people who work in Volterra and drive in from outside the city, so there wasn't any movement in the parking lots. Every car in there was in there for the we finally gave up and headed toward Siena through the beautiful Tuscany countryside, stopping on the side of the road for a picnic at a spot overlooking small villages and vineyards, a beautiful day. However, when we got to Siena, the campground, which was listed in the book as being open until October 31 was closed up, padlocked and empty.

By now, the weather had changed, and it was starting to rain, that had been the only campground in Siena, so nothing to do but we slogged on toward Rome. It rained and it poured, the traffic got heavier and heavier and we found ourselves in rush hour traffic, excuse me, rush hour traffic JAM on the autoroute leading to the ring road, in the pouring down rain, then trying to find the campground from the directions in the book, despite the exit being closed due to construction, etc.etc.etc. It was a good thing that our comfort zones have been greatly expanded on this trip, because we needed everything we had to pilot our little craft into the calm waters of the Camping Tiber campground, here in Rome that night.

But, all's well that ends well, because the campground is beautiful, just outside central Rome off the ring road, right along the Tiber River, which I am gazing at through the windshield as I type this, with a free campground bus that runs every half hour to the train station, then a short fifteen minute train ride into the heart of Rome, which we have been exploring practically nonstop for two days now.

For all of this trip, we have wondered where all the tourists were. All through the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, there haven't been that many tourists, (except at the Mediterranean), and only a tiny handful of Americans or British. Almost all the tourists we saw were Germans, French, Dutch, Italian, etc. we know where all the Americans were. They were here in Rome! Rome is chock full of tour groups, each with a leader holding up an umbrella or a sign like a mama duck with ducklings, and many of them American, as well as practically every other nationality you could name. Can't even imagine how sightseeing in Rome might be during the height of the season in the summer, as even now, at the very tail end of the season, they are everywhere. Up until now, it has been very rare to hear English spoken on the street, or in trains and buses, etc. No more........they (us) are everywhere!!!!!

We did another of those city wide double decker bus tours like we did in Paris. It's neat because you can get on the bus and ride up on the top, out in the open, all around, listening to an audio tour of the various stuff you are passing, and at various stops, if you want to get off and explore, you can, and then just hop on another of the doubledecker buses of the company, which come by regularly, and go on to the next place.

We've been to the Piazza del Popolo, walked over more cobblestone streets than I can count, and have been overwhelmed with ancient architecture. It is so humbling, just as it has been in seeing some of the great cathedrals, to see the magnificant buildings created by people with no modern tools and equipment. We visited the Pantheon and marveled at the intricate marblework and soaring ceiling, created at about the time of Christ. Walking in buildings that you know such people as Caesar walked is just amazing. They are so beautiful. It's hard to think what we are creating in our modern world that will wear so well and last so long as thousands of years to be admired by those who come after. It was also interesting to note the passing of culture as in the Pantheon where it was originally populated by statues of Roman gods, with Jove at the central "altar" where the Christian altar now stands and all the saints and the Blessed Virgin in the other niches.

Just going by the Coliseum and the Forum, you had to pinch yourself that you were really here. Just thinking of the history that this city has seen and lived through, seeing paintings by Rafael and Michaelangelo and beautiful sculptures.....what a city.

Rome is just Rome, I guess. In comparison to the other cities we have traveled in through Europe, it's dirty, with lots of litter, lots of graffiti, and the first homeless people we've seen, complete with 'hobo jungles' along the train right of way and under bridges. But also, alive in a way different from the others as well.
Drivers here are a different breed with a devil may care attitude, yet with great skill. Collisions are avoided moment by moment by graceful maneuvers. Crosswalks become a duel between pedestrians and motorists. The pedestrians are supposed to have the right of way, but it becomes a game of chicken, with the most macho winning out. It's fun to see the hordes of tourists, clustering like frightened chickens at the edges of the crosswalks as the cars speed by, then to see an Italian nonchalantly launch himself into the crosswalk, as into facing certain death, only to have all the cars come obediently to a stop, however unwillingly, and in the case of mopeds and motorcycles, while gunning their motors menacingly. We've learned to pull off the Italian way, although with an eye out as well.

Yesterday, we were in a crosswalk, and a car came on through anyway, upon which an Italian promptly kicked the guy's fender violently, the car stopped, the driver got out, gesticulations abounded, we scampered on across the street and left them to it. Such fun.......You can spend absolutely HOURS just peoplewatching here. And we have spent a few hours at sidewalk cafes, watching the world go by, when footsore and weary, we just couldn't look at one more beautiful building or one more painting or sculpture.

And of course, the food is SO good. Pizza fifty different ways, spaghetti as many, gelato (ice cream) to die for. The only hope we have for not gaining weight on this trip is the tremendous physical exertion we are expending, walking five or six miles a day on hard pavements and cobblestones, up and down untold flights of steps,etc. Hopefully, they are balancing each other out.

We spent much of one day at the Vatican, touring the museum and seeing the Sistine Chapel, with Michaelangelo's famous frescos on the ceiling. We were overwelmed with the beauty.

We visited the Trevi Fountain, made famous in Fellini's La Dolce Vita, with Anita Ekberg's famous scene of bathing in it. I had visions of tossing in my coin....a la "Three Coins in the Fountain", but alas, it was so awash with tourists that you couldn't get near enough to the fountain to toss in a coin. In pictures, you always see it photographed at night, lighted, and of course, no people. Tom says they must have photographed it at 3 a.m. and even then they probably had to shoo tourists away to click the shutter.

Well, that's about all the news. Rome is our most southerly point, and from here, we start the long trek back to Amsterdam in November. We plan to go from here to Florence, then on to Venice, and into Austria and Germany. Having a wonderful time, of course. That goes without saying.

Happy Trails from tom and nancy

Monday, October 8, 2007

Levanto and the Cinque Terre, Italy

All is fine here. Drove Friday the 3rd from the Swiss border to just north of the Cinque Terre, at Levanto, Italy, right on the Mediterranean. About 300 kilometers/180 miles. Too tired when we got here to sightsee. Road down here was pretty hairy. Lots of tunnels, but old toll roads, like some of the old California freeways before they knew more about how much distance was needed for access ramps, etc., and awfully curvy....tunnels after tunnels again today, some several miles long, but none like the Swiss one that was 17 kilometers long. Our hats are off to the engineers who managed to build these roads and tunnels through Switzerland, and here on the west coast of Italy. Absolutely amazing work, as the roads either cling to the sides of steep, steep mountains, or burrow right through them.
All in all a very tiring day, challenging road, lots of traffic, and a more aggressive type of driver....I'm glad our comfort zone has greatly enlarged. We had trouble at first navigating in Amsterdam, and now Amsterdam looks like a quiet easy to travel in place next to what we are dealing with now. And of course, Rome is yet to come, the ultimate drive:( We do have lots of experience with Mexican drivers in Mexico, who see medians as excellent shortcuts through and past traffic, and drive like they all have frustrated race car driver instincts, and these Italian ones seem little different. The moped riders swoop through traffic at great speeds. We watched one out on the toll road at about sixty miles per hour, threading his way through a jam of big trucks.....just amazing. Tom was incredibly glad to finally find and arrive at the campground safe and sound, however. He still has his edge, and can drive like an Italian (sort of, but a VW Campervan is no match for a moped or a fast Fiat sedan) when necessary, but it does take a lot out of him these days.
We are now in Levanto, east of Genoa along the Mediterranean in an area called the Cinque Terre (ching-kway ter-ri). There are five villages that cling to the cliffs over the Mediterranean, and a train links them, and the "auto strade" road above them. They are also linked by traditional and now much upgraded foot trails. Saturday we took the train to the southermost one, Riomaggiore and walked about 1.5 km west to Manarola, which is a flat and easy trail. We spent the day sightseeing, walking around observing and enjoying local life and enjoying stops on benches and at sidewalk cafes. The train pops out of a tunnel right at the station, then plunges back into the mountain until the next village. The whole area is terraced with hand laid stone terraces where the houses, the vineyards, gardens and olive groves cling to the mountain sides from the sea upward several thousand feet. The entire area is designated a national park and protected.
This area and much of the province Liguria was a source of early 19th and 20th century emmigration from Italy to the US when blights, fungus and insect attacks destroyed much of the vineyard culture. Today so much is as it always has been, and life goes on in the villages; anchovy fishing was also a traditional staple for several of the villages here in the Cinque Terre and today fishing for the tourists is a good complement.
Everywhere you look is another postcard view. Sunday was spent in much the same manner picking up in another village and walking on to the next and taking the train back to Levanto. Only Sunday, we had lots of company! Not only had some other tourists arrived, but the traditional Sunday "go for a ride" traffic from Genoa and other metro areas brought hundreds of additional walkers and diners. Here in Italy, Sunday meals with family are a real tradition and an all day affair. It was wonderful with lots of music, chatter and laughter in all the seaside village restaurants.
Monday we spent relaxing, catching up on some laundry and taking a nice afternoon swim in the Mediterranean. The water was a bit "refreshing" at probably 75F, and very salty. All around us the only language we heard was German, as they were the only other folks in the water. Many Italians were sunbathing on the beach, but only a few entered the water.
Earlier on the weekend Tom scored an International Herald Tribune and Nancy a Newsweek International Edition, so at breaktime we had a nice pot of tea and a cappucino and a dish of gelato accompanied the reading of the paper in a sidewalk cafes as we made the walks. It also helped a bit with the beginning twinges of those homesick feelings. We both find ourselves thinking of our little home with quite a nice feeling, and the comfortable bed and recliner. Our old 1981 VW Van had a comfortable bed, but this one was designed by torturers! We both wakeup with the creaks and groans from sleeping around the bar and gap in this 45 inch wide bed. Next time we check the bed first before agreeing to long term rental. But mileage wise, this VW van does pretty well with a 4 cylinder turbo diesel that averages about 30 mpg. And at average $6.30/gallon of diesel, that's very important.
That's it for now. Tomorrow we head off for Pisa and Siena before making the final approach to Rome.
Happy trails from Levanto... tom and nancy

Photo 1: View of old Levanto near campground, 13th century church and tower in view; photo 2: Laundry day in campground by our little house of wheels; tom and nancy with Manarola, Liguria, IT, in background.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lugano, Switzerland

Last time we wrote we had arrived in Freiburg, Germany. We stayed there several days, and took a day trip up into the Black Forest through some beautiful little villages. Forest, vineyards, apple orchards, and a wonderful outdoor living museum of Black Forest life for the past 400 years, the Swarzwalder Freilichtmuseum in Gutach. They took a traditional farm and then moved other authentic buildings from elsewhere in the Black Forest, and created a village and several farmsteads of authentic buildings with furnishings, etc. Kind of like our Williamsburg, Virginia, but of life from a period before Williamsburg to almost the present. Several of the houses had been lived in as late as the 1970s, complete with furnishings, etc. It was really interesting, and we spent the whole afternoon there. We also enjoyed a very beautiful, winding and twisting drive through the Black Forest, too. Reminded us much of NE PA, except the hilltops were higher and the valleys deeper, but just as forested and with fields and those special breeds of cows that have one set of legs longer than the other to walk on the hillsides:)
Rather than stay in Germany, we decided to start south toward Rome, to avoid a frantic last minute return to Amsterdam. This way we will begin returning north after Rome next week through Austria and Germany and hopefully enjoy some time in Munich and along the road of castles and the Rhine waterway.
So, we headed from Freiburg down into Switzerland, and drove through Switzerland to where we are now, Lugano, still in Switzerland, but right at the Italian border. Other than the fact that you are physically in Switzerland, and the official money is Swiss Francs, in actuality, you are in Italy and all signs are in Italian, the people speak Italian, etc. Switzerland wasn't willing to adopt the Euro due to requirements that they change their banking laws to confirm to the European Union banking regulations which would disadvantage their secretive bank accounts, so they still use the Swiss franc, although it is kind of like border Mexico in that prices are quoted in Swiss Francs, but every business and waiter has a little calculator and the latest exchange figures, so they all take Euros in payment. That was nice, so that we didn't have to change money into Swiss francs when we wouldn't be here long.
And when I say we drove 'through' Switzerland, we mean that this country of mountains, lakes and TUNNELS. All day we drove in and out of tunnels, which when you look at the mountain in front of you, snow capped and almost straight up, you are very grateful for the Swiss engineers which did such a good job of tunneling under them instead. Don't even want to think of the hairpin turns and dizzying heights you must have had to negotiate the roads before the tunnels. The longest one was 17 kilometers/10.5 miles long! And there were literally dozens of them, although most only a few hundred meters long other than about half a dozen that were several kilometers to ten kilometers long. Plus snow sheds after snow sheds, which they call 'gallerias', which are effectively tunnels along the sides of the mountains, with tops, but with one open side to the downward side, protecting the road from avalanches and being closed by snow in the winters. When you look at the size of the woodpiles everywhere, you KNOW what kind of winter is coming in this part of the world.
While driving through Switzerland, we noticed a funny noise in our right back wheel. It kept getting louder, so today, we located a VW dealer and had it looked at and the disc brake was bad and some other stuff. After a call to the van rental people to get authorization to repair (we had to pay, a little over $500 for the repairs, but they will reimburse us when we get back to Amsterdam), all is fine now, and the little van is ready to go.
Talk about falling into a mud puddle and coming up with roses, however........the garage gave us a new VW Jetta to drive for the day while the van was being fixed and sent us off to sightsee in Lugano, free of charge. We got into Lugano and promptly got lost in a maze of one way streets, mad moped drivers, and Italian drivers that live by leaning on their horns at the first second of a light change if you don't move out smartly enough. We went round and round trying to find the center of town, and a place to park. Traffic was incredible and no parking places could be found. We ended up going down this one way street, and lo and behold, the gods led us to a dead end, at a PARKING GARAGE......we found a place up on the sixth level, figured out how to work the machine that we would pay to get our ticket validated to get out, found out that even the machine would take Euros......we were set! AND the parking garage turned out to be right at the center of town, just where we wanted to be. We walked along the lakeside (Lugano is on Lake Lugano, one of the seveeral in the Italian "Lake District" and all over the downtown, had our first authentic Italian pizza, and a wonderful time. Oh, and ice cream (gelato) and apple tart.... Then we went back to pick up the van in the late afternoon, getting lost several more times in the process of getting back to the garage, in rush hour yet, not to be believed......can't wait for Rome, as Lugano reminded us of Mexico City, with drivers who have a very loose idea of the traffic regulations, and moped drivers hellbent on destruction as they weave in and out of traffic.......but we made it back just fine, and our little home on wheels is feeling much better and his brakes no longer make that ominous noise when applied. All is well.
Some vignettes from Camping La Piodella, here in Lugano..... something funny happened to Nancy this morning. You know, the campgrounds are almost totally Europeans, no Americans and few Brits or Australians, so you get used to nobody speaking in English, and much of the time you have to muddle through with broken phrases and charades to communicate. France was the worst, but still, people speaking English are few and far between. Anyway, this morning she was on my way into the bathroom when she encountered a handsome young man about twenty-five years old walking into the women's bathroom. She must have looked at him with a question on my face, or he was unsure of whether or not he was in the right place, because the following 'conversation' took place.....
Nancy: questioning look
Him: Here?
Nancy: No.
Him: Where?
Nancy: Otro lado (somehow you know that a foreign language is expected, and your brain only knows Spanish, so Spanish comes out.
Him: questioning look....blank look....obviously didn't understand Spanish
Nancy: large sweeping motion....charades.....showing that the men's room was on the other side of the building.
Him: o.k., thanks
We go on our separate ways....she go in the bathroom and then it hits her..... HE WAS SPEAKING IN ENGLISH!!!! She laughed so hard, anyone else in the bathroom must have thought she was nuts. It is just so unusual to have anyone speak English to you that your brain just didn't register it and went into its' usual pattern of using a few words and charades to communicate. It was so funny.
There are a lot of kids in this campground. It's right on the lake, and apparently this week is traditionally the autumn vacation period for German families, so the campground is crowded with German families, and lots and lots of little kids. Watching them has been so much fun. The van is kind of like a duck blind in that you can sit in it relatively unobserved and watch them. This morning, Tom was sitting drinking his tea and watching this little girl, about five years old, who was riding a little scooter up and down the road outside (kids are definitely allowed to do stuff that U.S. parents would shudder at, riding bikes at age five, unsupervised, climbing to the top of the jungle gym when they're about two or three....just like kids did in the old days before 'parent paranoia' took over in the U.S., and we've only seen one kid with a broken arm, and only one overweight kid so far in Europe, and she was only a little bit pudgy, so they must be doing something right) any rate, she had her mouth open, and was chewing gum and her chewing gum fell out. She stopped, very gravely looked around to make sure nobody was watching, leaned down and picked it up off the road, licked it carefully and then popped it back into her mouth! It was so funny. It was tempting to let her know that she was observed, but it seemed heartless, so we didn't....just had fun thinking about it.
As you can see, we find enjoyment in some strange We do note that these last few days, we've had a few lingering thoughts about our little home on wheels back in the States....our comfortable Queen sized bed (this one is 45 inches wide and has a 'torture' bar that you have to position your hips above or below in order to sleep), and our comfortable recliner chairs.......a tiny touch of homesickness for home comforts.....but it passes in a few minutes and we go on to further adventures. That's when we think of the cafes and afternoon tea and coffee stops, the many magical sites and of course, the food
We head from here down the western coast of Italy to the villages of the Cinque Terre, perched on the hillsides overlooking the Mediterranean, then on to Rome, magical Rome.
Happy trails from tom and nancy

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Rhine Valley and Freiburg DE

It seems like a long way from Versailles and my rant on American attitudes towards the French, especially as we find ourselves in the southwest corner of Germany on the edge of the Schwarzwald, Black Forest and near the Rhine. We spent a wonderful few days of cold and rain driving southeast through the red wine district of Burgundy where we stayed a couple of days in Beaune, FR very near Dijon (and the mustards). There we enjoyed a small museum of Wine. BTW, they've been growing grapes and producing wines here since the 5th century and the Romans! Then we drove east northeast through Jara Province and on into the Haut Rhin district into the white wine areas of the Rhine Valley. There we stayed a few days in the medieval town of Colmar and on Sunday toured the old town and many miles if vineyards and small villages around the city in glorious sunshine. Again, if you haven't noticed, we are travelers who without any other hobbies or vices do enjoy our touristing with a few museums, old country places and downtown plazas, outdoor cafes and good, locally grown foods. That we've found in all of our European journey to date.
Now we are here in Freiburg, Baden Wurzemburg state and the eco-capital of Germany, or so one person noted it. We crossed the border and almost instantly began seeing signs of a solar world different than we'd seen to date. Solar electric modules on some rooftops, solar hotwater panels on many others and even sign for "biodiesel", the first we've seen in all Europe. All this in space of about 40km! Today Tom spent day running around the city looking for some of the many solar rooftops and projects, and getting royally lost several times. Again, a stop at a cafe, a coffee or glass of wine and review of maps and phrasebooks, and off again. You'd almost think that he gets lost on purpose! He did find several of the many noted in the city's own guide to solar projects and sites around town. They take a top down approach from the local government dating back years to a loud, local rejection of a proposed nuclear power station in the area. The local farmers, vitners and students at the University wanted to explore an alternative. Today nearly 15% of local power is generated by renewable means. A lot of emphasis, too, has been placed on energy efficiency, retro construction on many of the older structures and passive solar designs for new construction. Tom's pedometer at the end of the day logged over 13000 steps, or over 6 miles walking.
Nancy enjoyed the day with Tom out of house, with our second WiFi campground connection and a good book. We're both beginning to feel some travel fatigue, some more than others. As well, Nancy's back has begun to be a problem and cause concern. This may have us reconsidering the many long drives ahead of us if we want to make it to Rome, and then back again to Amsterdam. (FLASH: We were unable to post this last night due to wifi connection/bandwith load here at campground, but at 5am, we're up and running WiFi very fast AND we've had a course correction: Auf Wierdesehn Deutchland, ciao Roma!) Now back to the Black Forest, tomorrow southbound to Switzerland and on to Rome.
Happy trails from tom and nancy
(BTW, the photo is of us in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles...finally figured out how to add the photos:)
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