I am lagging behind this time, the kids have finished their posts and I finally found some motivation to start my one. Really hard this time, probably as this will be one of our lasts posts. Warning, this one is a long post, wanted to get it done!
Anyway, from Rome we headed to Monte Argentario and the small but beautiful fishing village of Porto Santo Stefano. We had a couple of days up our sleeves until my sisters arrived in Tuscany and decided to break up our trip here. Good decision as it was just another nice spot in Italy. Especially in summer it must be nice to be here but even for us in October it was still warm and much less crowded of course.
Our apartment was in walking distance to the harbour and for the next couple of days we walked down and just strolled along the promenade, watched the fishermen and just relaxed after a few busy days in Rome. The water in the harbour was teeming with fish, even with some real colourful ones. We saw a few dive tours as well, must be a great spot for snorkelling and diving but not for us this time.
Then it was time to head to Siena, or better a small town called Sovicille close to Siena. That’s where we had our base with the aunties for the next 8 days exploring Tuscany. The accommodation was great overall with one of the perks being a daily (if you need) large basked with fresh fruits and veggies from their own garden. We also had an infinity pool, table tennis, kicker, basketball, … so overall just a great place. Again, it would have been nice to be here in summer as the temperatures were a bit low for the pool (not that this stopped us).
After picking up one sister from the train station and doing the first big grocery run, the other two were already at the accommodation, so our holiday could begin. First stop, Siena. A typical and very nice little town in Tuscany, lots of clay coloured houses, big castle on top and a beautiful historic part of town further below. Especially the Piazza del Campo stood out, a sloping, roundish place with a historic town hall and tower at one end. Beautiful place to stop, sit down and have a snack to just enjoy the atmosphere. Twice a year there is a big horse race happening in the square with one horse per part of town. Each part of town is represented by a symbol which you find along the streets as well, e.g. eagle, panther, tortoise etc. Quite fun to look out for the signs. A bit further through the historic part was the Dome of Siena, another impressive dome with white marble and black stripes through it.
The next day my sisters and the girls headed to Florence whereas Jannik, Jennifer and I decided to have a lazy day at camp with a walk in the afternoon. We found a nice little village at the top of a mountain where we first had a walk and then had a snack in a little cafe. After a late dinner that day, we headed to another two beautiful small towns in Tuscany the next day, Certaldo and San Gimignano. After exploring Certaldo and buying some local craft, we headed to San Gimignano. The drive was very nice through the typical Tuscany landscape and once arrived, we headed straight to the main piazza with its fountain but more importantly, its famous, multiple world champion ice cream shop. It wasn’t that warm that day but that didn’t stop us of course.
After exploring more of the historic part of town, we found a small, typical wine bar with local food on offer. With our energy levels up again, we climbed to the top part of town and were rewarded with great views across San Gimignano and its multiples towers. The town is called the Manhattan of Tuscany for a reason, only here you have so many towers in close proximity. Somebody had to compensate I guess?
Once back home, we cooked together (as most evenings) and played some games (Werewolf was a big hit but we managed a few rounds of Doppelkopf as well). Good fun and the kids enjoyed their time with the aunties.
The next day it was time to head to probably the biggest highlight of Tuscany – Florence. We parked outside of the city centre as parking is pretty much impossible and drove into town by train. We wandered to the Florence Cathedral first to have an easy spot to catch up later as we split up into a few groups. The shopping group, the just wander around group and the Pokémon group. The Florence Cathedral is massive and wouldn’t we have just been in Rome and the Vatican, this would have been the most impressive one.
Jannik, Josina and I were the Pokémon group as it was Charmander community day for the nerdy reader. Once we had a few shiny ones, we started to focus on the surroundings a bit more and admired one excellent looking ice cream shop after the other. After catching up with the other groups, two new groups were formed for the rest of the day. The continue shopping group and the sightseeing group. Josina joined the shopping crazy aunties and the more sensible ones headed for the Basilica, Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi Gallery and finally the Piazza del Michelangelo. The views across town with perfect, late afternoon light conditions from the Piazza del Michelangelo were certainly a highlight and a nice finish for the day.
The next day we all stayed at our accommodation and relaxed with games, walks and a quick swim for some. The following day we split up into two groups again, one more adventurous group heading to a couple of destinations further away and us lazy group just heading down the road to Monteriggioni. We drove past this place with its massive castle on top of a mountain a few times before, and decided it was time to have a closer look. Turns out it was worth it. For one it is a small but very nice village behind massive walls and while we were there, a film crew was shooting a movie. Must have been about the time when the castle was under siege or so and it was nice to see everyone dressed up the old fashioned way. We walked along the walls and had a snack on the town square before heading back.
And just like that it was time to say goodbye again! My sisters were driving back to Germany via a short stop in Venice whilst we were planning to head up via Cinque Terre and Lake Como to Switzerland to visit an old mate from study times in Berlin. Well that was the plan but I haven’t talked about the Corona situation in Europe so far. The second wave was starting to hit at that time and Germany declared the area around Cinque Terre as a risk area. What it means is that if you go back to Germany after being in a risk area, you have to go into 14 days of quarantine and have a couple of Corona tests done. So in the end we decided to skip Cinque Terre and head straight to Lake Como which was “safe” at that time.
So instead of a short 2-3 h drive, we had a 6 or so hour drive ahead of us when we left Sovicille. That didn’t stop us having a quick detour to Pisa though, one of the highlights for the kids. Once we arrived and stood in front of the leaning tower of Pisa, I have to say, it is something special. It is leaning all right and now they even let people up to the top of the tower. They must have put some decent reinforcements into the structure. Of course we tried to create a lot of funny and silly pictures and some turned out quite well. Good fun and now ticked off the list.
When we arrived at Lake Como I was very happy that we were zooming around Europe in our nice little rented BMW X1 instead of the Vito or VW bus we had before. Jeez the streets are narrow, parking is at a premium even in Corona times and our garage was just big enough to fit in the X1. Don’t know where we would have parked otherwise. So after having been a bit disappointed to have been “upgraded” from the ordered VW Tiguan Allspace to a X1, I was now very happy about it. We fit in all our stuff (just) and the X1 diesel is very economic. Back to Lake Como though.
We had planned 4 nights at our accommodation at Pognana Lario about halfway between Como and Bellagio. The first day we explored our little village via foot as much as possible. Lake Como is absolutely stunning and having seen Como and Garda now, I would come back here first. The lake itself is much smaller but the cliffs and mountains are much steeper and more impressive. Even more impressive though is the amount of villages and houses perched along the lake. There is kind of one road going along the lake but then there are lots of small alleyways and passages going left and right, some (not a lot) passable by car and then a lot which you can only walk along. People seem to use some kind of motorised wheelbarrow to get stuff up and down. You certainly stay healthy and fit walking up and down the steep alleyways all the time. The weather was ok whilst we were there so I hope the pictures will show some of the beauty.
We visited the two churches in our village, had a look at the veggie gardens people created on terraces with awesome views across the lake and made our way down to the lake as well. Nothing like Lake Garda where you can walk along the lake for kilometres though.
The next day we headed to Bellagio, I always liked the sound of the place and it was time to explore it. We started by visiting one of the famous villas along the lake, Villa Melzi with its beautiful gardens. Very impressive indeed, especially with the autumn colours really taking over now. Bellagio itself was a nice place to visit, nestled along the lake and we had just another nice pizza there. Well, turned out it was our last pizza in Italy that day.
Instead of heading to Como itself the next day and then further to Switzerlannd, the Corona news meant that we had to change plans once more. Germany reacted to the increasing Corona numbers in all of Europe and announced that it would declare most of Italy and all of Switzerland (next to pretty much all of Europe) a risk area, starting from a couple of days later. The couple of days later probably was aimed at the end of the school holidays in Germany, allowing people to head back without too much hassle. So it was decision time, either staying a day longer as planned and then heading into Switzerland with very high numbers of Corona, or pull the plug and head straight back. After a long walk weighing up options, we decided to pull the plug and play it safe.
Not an easy decision as we were very much looking forward to Switzerland and meeting up with an old mate and his family. But so far we managed to avoid getting Corona and we are definitely not keen on getting it. So better safe than sorry. Next question was then where to stay in Germany as it was a good 14h drive back to Schenefeld. That’s where it was getting even more complicated. Not only declared Germany most of Europe a risk area (and vice versa) but every state in Germany declared risk areas within the other states in Germany. We were heading to Schleswig-Holstein, so we checked on their site and only found a few risk free areas left within Germany. So either it was a massive drive back (still just me driving) or we would find a place to stay in one of the few risk-free areas. That’s where we got lucky, Jennifer has friends in Thuringia and after a chat with them we could (very) spontaneously stay with them for a couple of nights.
So instead of a 14h drive all the way to Schenefeld it was “only” a 9 hour drive to Creuzburg. And it gave us the chance to explore a new part of Germany as well, turns out it is a very nice part indeed. After a nice dinner and one or two too many beers and Schnaps the first night, we managed to get going before lunch to head up the Heldrastein through beautiful autumn forests. Quite a bit of history to the place as it is located straight at the old boundary between West and East Germany. During the time of the DDR, the mountain was used as a spy/listening station and since the wall came down has been turned into a bit of a museum showing the changes since the wall came down. A few shortcuts later, we headed back to the cars and into town for a well deserved ice cream before having a fantastic BBQ for dinner.
We could have easily stayed a few more days but after saying goodbye to everybody including the pets (even a snake), we got on with our last leg back home. First we caught up with friends in Kassel though. We met them the first time on the Galápagos Islands and stayed in touch since then, and even stayed in their flat on our way down to Italy a month earlier. It was great to see them again and hear what they have been up to over the last few months. And it gave us the chance to visit Kassel a bit more, nice little town I have to say, probably underrated in Germany. We caught up in the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe and walked up all the way to the Hercules statue on top. Must be pretty spectacular when the water feature is going, good reason to come back sometime. After a nice lunch in the park together, we said goodbye and got back on the road, and at last arrived back in Schenefeld in the evening.
What an epic trip through Italy and Germany. Nearly 6000Km driven in a month time, Venice and Rome are my personal favourites now and rank right up there in the highlights of our overall trip. Really happy that we managed to get this done!
By now, we are back in lockdown, yes not kidding. The second wave has hit Europe hard and a lot of countries are back into lockdown. Schools stay open for now and borders are open as well but otherwise it is pretty much as the first lockdown at the beginning of the year. At least we can spend our last month here with my mum. Yes last month, the flights back to New Zealand are booked and on 1st December (the day we started our trip to South America a year ago) we fly from Hamburg via London and Hongkong to Auckland. Exciting times and very much looking forward to being back, enjoying summer and a hopefully Corona-free environment.
It is quite weird though, usually you book a flight and are pretty confident that this will go ahead as planned. Now with Germany and the UK being in lockdown though – who knows?! All going well, we will be back in NZ on 3rd December and out of quarantine before Christmas. Fingers crossed!
Well that’s it really, our travel blog done and dusted! Or is it? Hope the next post will be from New Zealand when we are safely back and are getting bored in quarantine. All going well we might then be in for one last leg of the journey, a road trip from Auckland down South to the Mainland.