A Travellerspoint blog

July 2010

Ballooning in Tuscany

sunny 32 °C

The alarm goes off at 4:45 and we are dressed and into the car and off along the quiet local roads for 45 minutes until we arrive at our destination just near Montisi . Down in the cool valley is a mill with a small meadow where they are preparing the balloon. G’s face breaks into a grin as he sees what the surprise is. It is rolled out and tethered to the basket before a big fan starts to fill it. In no time at all, it is taking shape (on its side)and then out comes the big BBQ flame to give it the lift. There is a delicate moment as the flame has to be carefully pointed so as not to be too close to the nylon envelope, and then it lurches upright. Take off

Take off

Early morning shadow

Early morning shadow


We get into the basket, six passengers and the pilot. We have our safety training (keep seat backs upright and stow your tables for landing...) And then a few extra blasts, and out goes the filling cylinder. With that gone, we move a bit then Allie gives a few more blasts and we rise into the valley. It is so very quiet and sound carries so far in the dawn that we can hear all sorts of things going on under an about us. Until Allie gives it a bit more welllie. Then we rise out of our valley, and over the Tuscan landscape. From here it is all laid out like a carpet for us to wonder over. One thing is for certain, there is no shortage of swimming pools in the area. This is a very popular area, and along with the classic rolling hills, rows of cypress pines, wheat fields and vineyards there are a hell of a lot of Agriturismos, Auberges, hotels, holiday flats - and a pool is de riguer if you want to have a holiday in Tuscany. The ballast

The ballast


But I digress. We float over the recent excavations of a 9th century church and over some small canyons where the water has dug through the soft local rock. From here we can see Montepulciano easily, and to the south we can just make out the islands on lake Trasimeno. Matt and Emma can just make out their honeymoon getaway near Buonconvento, and the local highlights (pubs) are pointed out as we go along. Allie has flown around Bristol in the UK a lot, and says that most balloon navigating is really done by the closest pub. We can see several large pubs, sorry, castles in the valley, and a number of abandoned farmhouses that could not be too expensive to buy and do up...
We are starting to come down to find a place to land, but as Allie descends the winds are very fickle and we cannot make it down.
Tuscany view

Tuscany view

So up we go to catch a different current and drift on to the next likely spot. We have picked out a large estate with lots of vines around it and start to descend, but the winds have now gone to being contrary and push us back in the opposite direction. Up we go again, looking for the puff of wind to get us to a landing site. This time we look good for a field next to a river. Allie will have to drop a rope and have the recovery person pull us out to the next field where there are no crops. As we drop we hit a dead patch, in fact we can see our reflection in the river’s surface as we just sit there for a few minutes before shifting off. As we get lower still, two or three times the height of the trees, a breeze suddenly picks us up and carries us into the right spot to land straight off. The landing is soft, and once the envelope is vented to make sure we will stay on the ground, we can hop out of the basket and help to lay the balloon down as it deflates. A team effort helps to stuff it in the bag and then we can relax.
The champagne breakfast on landing

The champagne breakfast on landing


As part of the ride, Robert and the team from Ballooning in Tuscany provide us with a champagne breakfast with local pizzas and fresh fruits and cheeses – just a scrumptious way to end the flight. We also get to meet the owner of our landing field – this is the second time in two days, so Hans also scores a glass of bubbly. We all pitch in and pack the balloon onto the trailer, and we are then treated to a gelati in Buonconvente before heading back to the launch site. A great flight was had by all.

Posted by lostagain 06:57 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

In the valley of the motors

horsepower for everyone

sunny 33 °C

Ok Barbara, here's some more...

In the Mestre car park, the car was still there and all in one piece, so that was good news. The bad news was wi-fi hadn’t been working so we had nowhere to stay that night. We were aiming to head south and find somewhere that night. We dropped into Ferrara and drove around town trying to find free wi-fi. Went into Maccas, but to register you required an Italian mobile, bloody useless. We wandered around and were about to head out and just try our luck when I picked up a bar’s signal. We did a quick circuit back and went in to have a cuppa until they closed. We found a hotel in Bologna (we’ve had a pretty good strike rate with booking.com) and arrived in there at 10pm. Got a few looks as we hauled up the bike box, and all the other luggage. F1 2008

F1 2008


We were late down so there wasn’t much breakfast left in the morning, but we were refuelled by the time we jumped into the car. We had a drive of about an hour to the east until we arrived at Maranello and found the Ferrari Museum. We spent a number of happy hours here drooling over the cars from every age of the Scuderia. I'll take one in yellow

I'll take one in yellow

Dino 246

Dino 246

I still love the cars from the 60’s but they have made a few good models recently too. The museum has a few extra displays above the cars from F1, other racers and the road, but there is not that much interactive stuff. After a cold shower, in the form of the prices in the shop, we were ready to depart.
Mine - the Enzo

Mine - the Enzo


To end up the day we headed back via Sant’Agnete Bolognase and dropped into Galleria Lamborgini to have a wander through the history of that marque. This is pretty much only a static display and not so detailed as the Ferrari offering. It is very interesting to how the cars have changed and some of the stuff they were willing to try out to revive the brand in the ‘90s. Again, I loved the classics and a few of the new designs.Mine, mine, mine Murcielago GTR

Mine, mine, mine Murcielago GTR

Lamborghini 350

Lamborghini 350


Ferrari and Lamborgini are both in the valley of motors which includes other brands such as Pagani and Ducati as well as a few other specialist engineers. Many of these can be visited and some offer tours as well.
We grabbed a bite to eat in Bologna before heading to bed – a really crap nights sleep left me feeling wrecked the next day - had a day off while L went shopping in town. We also headed out to the big shopping centres that have grown up on the outskirts of most Italian cities. They seem to have eight or so big stores and a cafe or maccas and not much else. Pretty soulless, but popular. I have picked up a few things to go on the bike, but that is the only shopping joy for us.
The next day we head off to take in another shopping phenomenon. This one is the outlet village that has sprung up in lots of places around the country. Situated just off an autostrada, there is an area of a hectare or two with plenty of parking available. Inside, there are nearly a hundred stores of different brands, mostly clothing and shoes with some home wares as well. It is all landscaped around a central stream to keep it nice. G and I are through in under an hour, each with a souvenir. We have retreated to the car park to play soccer in the scorching heat when L calls to say there is one more store to look in and she’ll be out. An hour later, she calls back to say she has found the store she was searching for the whole time. Despite the time in there, only two purchases are made.
Lindt outlet

Lindt outlet

Outlet village

Outlet village


The next diversion on this leg is a wander across to a place called Pisa, you may have heard of it. Following the downloaded Google Maps, we are guided in pretty well until the last minute where we are not sure to park. In the end we go into a gated car park and back up to the fence to discourage anyone...
We head across to the Piazza dei Miracoli, and the miracle here is that unlike just abut every other famous building in Italy, this one has plenty of space around it so you get a great perspective of all the buildings - you don't get a view like this in Florence. Piazza delli Miracoli

Piazza delli Miracoli


The original plan was to do a dash in and out, but unlike the last time we were here, the tower is open so G and I get tickets to go up - in 80 minutes time. This gives us time to go and have a tourist meal nearby. G and I head on up. It is very weird trying to walk up something with this angle of dangle, and it makes you feel a bit dizzy. Up the top, it is hard to get past the feeling you are very close to going over the edge. Up the very top it is plain to see just how much of an angle the tower is on as you look across.
Everyone has a photo like this

Everyone has a photo like this

An idea of the angle of the dangle

An idea of the angle of the dangle

View from the top

View from the top


We have spent a few hours more in Pisa than we planned, and it is a few hour's yet to tonights stay. We arrive at our accommodation near Cortona in Tuscany late and quickly get set up ready for tomorrows’ surprise.

Posted by lostagain 06:26 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Venice days two and three

On the water

sunny 32 °C

The next day is a day on the water. We are heading to Murano to see the glass work over there. We get to watch a vase and a horse made, neither my taste but the process is interesting. We spend a fair bit of time in one gallery and after that it looked like we had seen all on offer in Murano.Murano canal

Murano canal

We jumped back on the vaporetto out to Burano, the fishing village which gained a reputation for making lace. There is plenty of it on sale but it is impossible to know if it locally handmade or imported for the tourists. The other interesting thing about Burano is the custom of painting the houses in bright colours to welcome the fishermen back from their fishing trips. It makes for a colourful and picturesque setting to wander about, take photos and eat gelati.
Fishing houses, Burano

Fishing houses, Burano

Even the washing is colourful in Burano

Even the washing is colourful in Burano


We then head over to Torchello to have a look at the original Basilica in the lagoon of Venice. Although it has been neglected for a long time, there are a couple of great Byzantine mosaics preserved here.
Torcello

Torcello


Love the Vaporreti

Love the Vaporreti


We get the boat back to Venezia and head out for dinner. It is only average and they have the cheek to charge for a carafe of tap water!
It is the morning of the gondola ride. We are not going out in the densely packed area around St Mark’s square, rather we are situated closer to home around San Polo. We have a good 40 minutes floating around the quiet canals watching the world go by. It is very restful, and also great to watch the gondolier in action as he guides his craft within a few centimetres of obstacles while keeping up a smooth glide the whole time. It is also a different feeling, being so close to the water. No bargaining about the cost, the standard is 40 minutes for 80 euros.
O sole Mio

O sole Mio

On the grand canal

On the grand canal

under the bridge

under the bridge


We then made a quick visit to the Peggy Guggenhiem Collection a very pleasant visit with some really good works on show.
Anish Kapoor strikes again - Peggy's

Anish Kapoor strikes again - Peggy's


We had promised G a visit to the toy shop, so we had a bit of time to get through before they opened. So we hopped on the No2 vaporetto which heads down the grand canal, over past the car parks at Tronchetto and then down the Guidecca canal and back to St Marks. It is a slow old trip but gives a look at the other side of life in the island state.
Not your everyday sight on a canal

Not your everyday sight on a canal

P1060140.jpg
As expected, everything in the toy shop was too expensive (in Venice, go figure!) so we left empty handed.
We said our goodbyes to Daniella and carried all our stuff over the bridges to the train station. There were no trains to Mestre! So I asked and guess what every train goes to Mestre (they’ve got nowhere else to go) and boy did we get dirty looks when we threw in a bike box and two suitcases to block up the entry way.

Posted by lostagain 15:15 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Venice day one

a wander around

sunny 32 °C

Now there comes the race across northern Italy to get to Venezia. All goes pretty well until we reach Brescia and things pile up on us a bit. We park the car in Mestre leaving a fair bit of stuff in the boot (under cover and backed up against the wall) but there are Jags and Beemers parked in here too, so it should be alright. We haul our bags and bike box to the railway and then over the bridges and canals of Venice, getting a few stares on the way. In Venezia at last

In Venezia at last

We got to our B&B Al Galleon at about 9pm and have a lovely welcome in from Daniella our host. She gets us settled and then sends us for a Pizza to get us ready for a sleep. Just around the corner is Pizza All’Anfora (Lista Vecchia dei Bari, 1223) where they make great pizza, and serve hefe weizen beer, great combination.
After a breakfast with great home made jams and cakes and fresh fruit, we get the low down on Venezia with Daniella’s purpose made map. She has taken a map of Venice, marked on the reasonable $ restaurants, the main sights, the main vaporetto routes and stops, how to get to Murano, Burano, Lido etc. It’s all colour coded for ease of use and guidance. Today is a bit of wander around and get a basic feel for Venice. On the Grand Canal

On the Grand Canal

We have a look around the fish market, now packing up, and catch a traghetto (commuter gondola) across the grand canal to then walk around for a while until we eventually end up in St Mark’s Square, of course. Resisting the temptation to have a $20 cup of coffee, we head over to the basilica. There are lots of women covered in what looks like throwaway tablecloths from a restaurant – these are given out to cover shoulders and legs before they are allowed to enter the church. In St Mark's Square

In St Mark's Square


Inside we head up to the balcony with the four horses. There are some good views of the square and the doge’s palace from here. Your 3 euro also gives you access to a part of the gallery around the inside and you get a close up of the mosaics covering the ceiling of the basilica. And they are seriously impressive. The main colour on the ceiling is gold, produced with real gold that has been fused to glass as gold leaf. The artists then break this into the little tiles that they use for the background of the mosaics. And there are thousands and thousands of square metres of mosaics, depicting the apostles, saints, scenes from the bible and the pictures of the last judgement, all starting in the Byzantine ages.
From here we wandered a bit more, saw the bridge of sighs drowned in advertising and then jumped onto the local bus to Sant ‘Elena. Here we were searching for food, but the place we were after did not open until 7:30 so we wandered around the residential part of Venice, and sat down at the docks and watched all the locals coming in from a day at the beach or out in the water. Kids were taking the family boat out, grandparents minding grand kids and the girls going out meet boys. And not a life vest in sight. Time had come to get food so we headed back and had a good meal at a reasonable price. After that we took the vaporetto back, had a gelati for dessert.
Rialto at night

Rialto at night

On the water

On the water

Posted by lostagain 15:07 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

With the Family

In and around Asti

sunny 29 °C

As usual we are running late, but at least not lost as we retrace our steps (roughly) back to Chamonix and Mont Blanc. I love the mountain scenery, the sheer drama of it all, and knowing it is there to be skied! Same as the other day, still can’t see the top, but today we are going through, not up. The tunnel is not that long, but it still costs 35 euros. We are soon at Courmayer in the Val D’Aoste and Italy. The Italian side is just as dramatic and stunning, and this side of the border is totally cloudless with clear blue skies that the mountains stand out against beautifully. And into Italy

And into Italy

The sun is however dropping and we head on past Torino in the dark to arrive in Asti quite late. Robert, Lili and Jessica have stayed up to greet us and it is great to see them all again. Aunt Lili has prepared dinner and we are all back for seconds. Mail from home too – G has a Socceroos scarf from Mum, but I don’t think it will help them from here.
We are late to wake up (surprise!)this morning but we are dressed before cousin David arrives. We sit down to breakfast with him and his son, Ricky. We are heading off to Torino to have a wander around. We get up there spending a lot of time catching up on who does what and how everyone is. This continues around Torino and we get a look at the grand colonnades and squares and down to the river to La Grande Madre. Family Photo

Family Photo

We also go past a TV episode being shot at the university – the same action 4 times – then head up to the Film Museum where they have a great lift up to the roof to look over the city – it is all glass and as it passes through the huge open hall of the museum there are no supports apart from the wires, so it is all a bit freaky. View from the top is great though.
Not happy in his work

Not happy in his work

Italian Parking

Italian Parking


After Torino we head off to David’s place where the boys get to play X box. We also catch up with Simonetta and the girls get to share their hobbies as the boys share theirs. Too soon we say goodbye so we can get ready for dinner with uncle Robert. We are out for pizza tonight, and La Cometa does a good job of it.
The Boys

The Boys


In the morning we are off with David and Ricky again, this time to Genoa. As Genoa drops into the sea, there is precious little flat land available. As we drive in, we come off the Autostrada and dive down through 5 stories of car parks, off ramps, diversions and roundabouts. David knows the way though and we are soon parked in the centre of town – which is eerily quiet. We soon are told that today is San Giovanni Batistuta Day, so most places will be shut. Not to worry. We wander around and stuff ourselves with the menu touristico at a local bar. We waddle up to the centre of town to the ducal palace and cathedrals, then we enjoy a string quartet’s offerings for a while until the council sweeper washes them away!great string quartet

great string quartet


We head down to the docks that have been flashed up for tourists, before heading around to the Maritime Museum. The real aim is to get inside the Submarine docked nearby which is good fun even if we have to dress silly and hit our heads a lot. Genoa waterfront

Genoa waterfront

The Italian Navy!

The Italian Navy!


We head back via the gelati shop, and G gets invited back to Ricky’s to play X Box again which leaves L and I free until uncle Robert picks us up again for dinner. We head out to the local camping ground for dinner (I kid you not) and have a great dinner with all the family. We get to chat a lot and then all the boys go and play football nearby to help the first two courses settle before we head back for desert.Family Dinner

Family Dinner


The next morning we head in to see everyone at work. Lonnie goes off for a coffee and talk with the girls,and David and I compare bruises and sprains from the football last night. Then G and I head out with David to try and find me an Asti cycle top. We get one at the second shop, and then head back to meet the ladies. We wander around Asti having gelatis, pizza and window shopping before the sad time has come to say goodbye. We hope it will not be as long before we meet up again.The ladies

The ladies

Coffee

Coffee

Chicco makes a friend

Chicco makes a friend

Posted by lostagain 00:37 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 7) Page [1] 2 » Next