TRIP REPORT - ITALY------------------for the gallery click here

We had a week of vacation and wanted to explore the northern part of Italy. We left Germany in a very winterly state (pic 01) and just a 3-hour-drive took us to springtime at Lago di Garda, a popular and scenic lake sitting in the middle of spectacular mountainous scenery (pic 02).

Our next stop was Brescia just south of the lake where we strolled through the beautiful historic old town where many Roman and medieval monuments are preserved, and marveled at the imposing "new" medieval cathedral from 1604 and its "old" neighbor from the XI century, a rare example of a circular Romanesque Basilica (pic 03); the view from the castle was remarkable.

Piacenza was equally impressive with is squares and grand palazzi. Due to its strategic location at a major crossroads, this city has been of vital interest to political powers striving to control northern Italy.

Crossing through the agricultural belt of Italy, best known for its parmiggiano "Grana Padana", we reached Pavia, a beautiful university town where we were almost blown up one of the many towers (pic 04) by a gale that literally took our breath away, not least because it had kicked up tons of sand. Where all that soil came from was apparent when we continued on west and passed countless and very dry fields. After this intense sandblasting treatment we were glad to reach Vigevano, a lovely little town with impressively elegant ancient horse stables (pic 05) and its beautiful rectangular central square (pic 06). Since the campground was still closed for the season (like almost all we had inquired with so far), we asked the police for a hint on where to park overnight - many Italian cities provide "one-night-only parking for self-reliant campers", i.e. a parking lot. The carabinieri suggested that for safety and comfort reasons, we should stay right behind the cathedral since "metered parking is free after 7pm - however, you will have to pay after 9am tomorrow!"

Milan was the only major city on this trip and it took over an hour just to get from the outskirts to the centre by car. The city is vast, choked with traffic and has about a trillion gazillion traffic lights. Once we found parking for our vehicle, we headed on foot into the general direction of where we believed the centre to be. Several people we asked for the way seemed taken aback by the question and suggested that maybe we were looking for the cathedral? Apparently, Milano does not have a "centre" but asking for the cathedral will take you exactly there. The cathedral and adjoining grand galleria (pic 07), as well as the imposing castle, were well worth the effort.

From here we headed north to Lago di Como, surrounded by even higher and steeper mountains. We had hoped to hook up with an acquaintance from Spain, an Italian baker who had moved back to his home town near the lake. Unfortunately, we only knew his first and last name and the fact that his sisters owned two restaurants, but had no idea where around this 46-km (28-mile) long lake we should start our search. Thankfully, Italians in this area tend to stick around in their home villages (with some exceptions), so after our camphost indicated the respective village to us where this said family was from, all it took was asking a lady on the street for the brother of the two ladies who own a restaurant! Amazingly, we did find one of the sisters. Our friend was not in town but his sister welcomed us warmly and we chatted a while over a nice espresso. Then we continued north along the scenic lakeshore (pic 08) and toured once around the lake, stopping for the occasional view, walk, and obligatory refreshment of cappuccino, icecream and pizza (not necessarily in this order). The small villages scattered around the lake are all worth a visit, although driving is sometimes challenging (yes, the street on picture 09 on the right is a two-way lane!).

We had just about enough time left to leasurely cruise up the eastern shore of Lago Maggiore, the "Greater Lake", which we followed into Switzerland. A short one-night stop-over later, to visit with a dear friend who calls this lovely town of Bellinzona her home, we were on our way north, heading home. While in Bellinzona we had enjoyed 25 degrees C (77 degrees F), we faced snowfall the next day when crossing over the San Bernardino pass at 1,500 meters (almost 5,000 feet) altitude. April weather!

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for more pics click here