Posts Tagged With: italia

Hiking on the Seiser Alm/Alpe di Siusi, Dolomites


“Francy, get out the van and look at this! You won’t believe it!” I hear Logan saying in the morning. I open the door and see a snow line in the trees only about 100m above us. Oh, so I guess there will be fresh snow on the Seiser Alm then?! Looks like our walk will rather be a short one today anyway after Logan ran up there yesterday and I’m still fighting off my light headache.

The Seiser Alm, or in Italian: Alpe di Siusi, is Europe’s highest alpine pasture at 1680 – 2350m above sea level. It is very big at about 57km² and surrounded by mountains like the Schlern and the Langkofelgruppe (long-peak-group).

The Schlern:


We drive up the serpentine mountain road to Compatsch, the only village where cars are still allowed on the Alm and discover that much of the snow is already melting due to the warm sun. Looking at the tourist map, we realize there are literally hundreds of different routes to choose from, some of them particularly designed for hiking, some for cycling and some for running. We choose a 1-2hour round trip and start our easy walk:

The Langkofelgruppe with Logan looking at the Plattkofel (flat-peak) 2969m:

 

 

Within 10 minutes we lost the orange track we wanted to follow and find ourselves getting further and further away from the van. What started off as a slow walk turns into a hike, then a power hike, up and down hills and soon steep up towards the Langkofelgruppe. After 5(!!!) hours of hiking I’m suddenly being screamed at. I have no idea what it is or where it’s coming from and start screaming myself. Then I see it! A groundhog! I’m so excited, I can hardly get a word out to explain Logan what I see. A very confident ground hog is standing up right in front of me, trying to scare me off. We slowly get closer and sit down on a rock. After a few seconds we see another one, and another one, and another one… The whole groundhog family is coming out from it’s den to check us out too. I really love watching animals, especially in the wild. We stay for a while, watching them play, feed and ring the shrill alarm whistle another time, when a large bird flies past.

Finally we arrive at the Plattkofel hut. My feet are wet from the melting snow and I’m exhausted from the long hike. We are looking forward to a drink and some warm food in the hut when soon it dawns on us: The hut is closed. We already expected it as we haven’t seen any hikers for a long time and there were no tracks in the snow either.

Plattkofel (flat peak)                                                                            See the ground hog?

 

So instead of sitting down for a nice warm lunch, we get out our emergency cookies and some water and sit down in the grass. A black bird joins us, being quite pushy about getting his share of our lunch.

Plattkofel hut                                                                Black bird and Plattkofel in the background

 

The tracks up the Plattkofel weren’t open yet due to the snow and quite frankly we didn’t feel like hiking/climbing any higher. We had a long way back to our van and didn’t want to arrive back in Compatsch after dark.
Fortunately going down works out to be quite fast, especially slipping and sliding down the melting snow.

Soon we arrive in a valley and realize that we need to walk back up again. There are no buses going, so we have no choice but to keep going!

 

Here you can see the Plattkofel (the snowy flat peak on the right), the mountain we walked down all the way into the valley and then back up to where I took this photo. Only about 20min to Compatsch (and our van) from here!

The sun is standing low when we see the first houses of Compatsch. It has been 7.5 hours since we left for the walk.
Absolutely exhausted but happy about this amazing hike, we fall into the door of our camper van and have a decent portion of Spaghetti to fill up our hungry bellies.

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Gfrill and Villanders – Dolomite Views

  

 

  

After going for a walk in Gfrill, the town we stayed at last night, our way finally leads us into the Dolomites. Later in the afternoon we are driving up to Villanders, tonight’s camping spot. The drive to the top is rewarding us with spectacular views!

  

Upon arrival at the campsite we are being told that they have lost their licence but hesitantly they allow us to stay the night on their property for free. We couldn’t have been luckier: the view is magic and we enjoy the sunset from the top of a plateau looking down on the mountains. A couple of the sharp Dolomite peaks are lit up in the red sunlight.

  

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Tale of the leaning Tower of Pisa

Today we went to Pisa and Logan couldn’t help himself but have a taste of the marble walls of the tower of Pisa. He must have thought it would be similar to the marbled Italian ice cream.

  

Now look what happened!!! The tower of Pisa is leaning off to one side!!!

I’m trying my best to move it back into position…

 

 

And even Logan is trying to straighten it…

   

The people up the top are scared and start to panic…

 

Eventually we give up and quietly disappear from the scene, pretending we had nothing to do with it!

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Tuscany: Siena and Florence

After 4 hectic days in Rome we spend four days in Montefiascone. We’re lucky to have found a free camper park with electricity and even find some free hot springs nearby.

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Logan is getting ready for a run and discovers that his running shoes have gone missing. We find out that he has left them behind in Sperlonga, when he wanted to air them out and put them under the van, so they wouldn’t get wet. Unfortunately we forgot about them when leaving. Devastated he wears his brown leather shoes for today’s run.
The next morning we are in search for a sport shop. I have my doubts they will sell Logan’s shoe size (EU 49, or US size 14) in Italy but we are having a look anyway.
It is Monday and we arrive at around 2:30pm. All shops are closed and the only sport shop is closed too. Half an hour later the siesta is over and Logan is being offered two pairs of shoes, two sizes smaller. He is lucky, the Nike shoes fit even though they are labeled as a 47!

I guess the good thing about losing your shoes is that you get to buy new ones!
There we have one happy Logan:

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On our way up north through the beautiful Toscana, we are stopping at Siena, a medieval town.
We are having a drink at this piazza and do some ‘people-watching’ before driving on to Florence.

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Arriving in Florence we first stop at this beautiful lookout over the city:

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Florence, part of the UNESCO World Heritage) is the capital of Tuscany and has over 370.000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area.
We find a car park right near the river and spend the night here.
The next morning we are out and about quite early trying to beat the midday heat. We are crossing Florence’s beautiful bridges and stroll through the medieval centre, visiting the markets and a cathedral. There are artists on the streets, busking, mimicking and painting.

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On the way back we treat ourselves to an ice cream each, well actually 3 each! This helped to cool us down and make the way back to the camper van much more enjoyable!

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All roads lead to Rome

This morning some police walked by and told us we have to move the van… something we expected, but at least we got away with it for one night. After a second search we strike gold, we can’t believe it! A spot on a smaller street right in the heart of Rome, virtually across the street from the Vittoriano (the Monument of Victor Emanuel) and just down the street from the Colosseum. Image

Now we need to work out what we want to see. We decide we first need to find an Internet café to print out some information about Rome, so we don’t walk about aimlessly. On the way we pass some interesting sites.

     

The Vittoriano is such an impressive building, made of white marble featuring Corinthian columns, fountains, an equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel, two statues of the Goddess Victoria and an eternal flame. Built between 1885 and 1911 it was built to commemorate the achievements of Victor Emmanuel, the Italian king who was successful in the unification of Italy in 1870.

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The Trajan forum is across the street, which was completed around 113 AD and in its time was considered one of the architectural wonders of the world. Today it is a mere shadow of its former self, however still very impressive to witness such amazing architecture that still remains after almost 2000 years. Image

The Internet café is a long walk and it turns out to be cheaper to purchase a book on Rome, than to print out the pages we need. We also purchase the Rome Pass, which gives us entry into 3 different museums/monuments. Having finished lunch in our van, we decide to head down the main road towards the Colosseum. We can see a lot of other impressive monuments along the way, like the Forum of Caesar, but these can wait. We have our sites set on the mighty Colosseum. Even in today’s standards, it stands as an imposing structure. Completed in 80 AD, this huge amphitheater could house some 55,000 spectators. I can’t stop thinking of the ancient battles that took place here so long ago.

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I just read in our trusty tourist book that the games usually started with comical acts and displays of exotic animals, but what the crowds really came for were the Gladiator battles. Most Gladiators fought wild animals such as lions and tigers but would also fight each other, usually to the death. We were told that there are more tourists in Rome than Italians and today I think this is the case. However, we manage to dodge most of the line up due to our Rome Pass, allowing us to bypass the ticket cue. We spend about an hour walking around inside, taking photos, videoing and imagining what it would have been like all those years ago. While still largely intact, an earthquake in 847 AD caused a large section on the southern side to collapse, nevertheless well worth the visit.

  

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We head back towards the van and attempt to check out more of the Forum along the way but unfortunately we are too late; the gates are closed, so settle for a view from the nearby footpath.   Although the street we are parked on is narrow and appears not to be a main road, it seems to be the route of the many tourist buses that circle the city all day. Our van is the first vehicle after the corner, which is a possible target for a crazy Italian bus driver. The first chance I get I think I will move it forward to give them ample space.

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Naples, city of chaos

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Traffic noise, sirens and beeping horns have accompanied our sleep. The heat in the morning is responsible for a quick breakfast as our van is turning into an oven. Getting the bicycles down, Logan wants to pump up his back tire a little more but instead of pumping air in, it’s coming out. Finally it is completely flat and we can’t ride into town anymore. This is really great timing as it’s not only very hot today but we are about an hours walk away from the city centre.

“Okay we are walking!” I say. Logan gives me a surprised look but then we start walking. I feel like jumping into the dirty sea, that’s how hot it is. An hour later we are in the city centre, gazing at a shopping centre from the inside and various sights throughout the city. It is here where we first have Italian ice cream and now we’re hooked! Nowhere in the world will you get ice cream with SUCH a delicious taste! If fruit flavour, nut, panna cotta, yoghurt, alcoholic ice cream, ANYthing you could wish for: You’ll find it in Italy! And oh so creamy!

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Anyway, we pick up a tourist map and make sure we’ve seen the most important sights and streets but soon come to our end. The heat is unbearable and my feet hurt because my shoes have rubbed off the skin between my toes. Ouch. We decide on catching a bus back: What an experience! We find ourselves jammed in with other passengers, sweat, smell, heat, traffic jam, no movement! This is worse than walking! We’re getting off again. A few hundred meters later we are getting onto the same bus again… and… miss our station. Instead we are going through a loooong tunnel. Logan wants to walk back, but I can see another bus coming in the opposite direction so we hop back on. Finally we only need to walk another 400 meters and we are back at our Globetrotter home.

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Amalfi Coast and Pompeii

Today’s plan is to drive to Pompeii and have a look at the ancient ruins destroyed by the Vesuvius volcano 79AD.

We think it’s best to drive along the popular Amalfi coast. Especially dad kept saying, you gotta have a look at the Amalfi coast, it’s supposed to be spectacular with the high cliffs dropping into the sea.

Spectectular? Oh yes! But we didn’t really know, that the road along the coast would be carved into the cliff going up and down and being particularly bendy! The cliffs are partly hanging over the narrow road adding to the danger of damaging our Globetrotter van. At a roadwork traffic light, a man jumps out of his car, informing us that Campervans are not allowed along the Amalfi Coast. I could hardly believe this but google confirms his statement: No mobile homes or caravans allowed between April and September. Only between 23:00-06:00 are they allowed to pass through. Basically that is in the dark and since we have made it half way through, we have no choice but to keep going.

The views are amazing but the hectic and dangerous drive is even more thrilling! About 5km before Positano we are being stopped by a traffic controller. She tells us that we can’t go through Positano as there are road works and we’re too big to fit through. We couldn’t believe it! Instead of going all the way back, she said we could also go through Agerola and head inland from there. I’m not exactly sure what she was thinking or if we took a wrong turn towards Agerola but we suddenly find ourselves on a very steep, windy, narrow and bumpy road that was obviously not made for vehicles such as ours!

Trying to make it up the steep cliff, our Globetrotter is at its limit nearly stalling. We have to squeeze through between a car and a wall and eventually have to discover that we cannot make the last bit due to the road turning into a gravel track.

  

Back down the same steep track, we find another turn off with the streets gradually becoming wider and easier to navigate through, until finally we make it back onto a main road.

 

Finally getting to Pompeii, we only have the afternoon to have a look at the ruins but think it should be enough time.

Upon paying an entrance fee of 11Euros each and buying a guidebook, we enter the world of Pompeii. We are absolutely stunned and amazed by the size and atmosphere.

Pompeii is a town that was buried in 79AD by the Vesuvius volcano and first ruins were only discovered in 1592 while the first excavations didn’t begin until 1748 and are ongoing.

We then lost ourselves in a different world, set way back in the past. Not only did the Pompeians have an Amphitheatre, in which gladiators fought wild animals and occasionally each other, they also had gyms, community baths, temples, basilicas (churches), forums, two theatres, a market place, potteries, bakeries, taverns, vineyards, gardens and more.

 

 

We are stunned. And suddenly it is 7:30pm and we hardly see another person in Pompeii. We rush back to the entrance, getting slightly lost and having to jump a wall. We made it before they closed the gates and get back to our campervan.

You can easily spend a whole day in Pompeii and if you really want to get into it, a week wouldn’t be long enough. It is an amazing place to see and feel.

 

We decide that we want to climb the Vesuvius crater tomorrow so already make our way to the still active Volcano and spend the night at a car park next to a little take-away place from which we get two slices of pizza before going to bed.

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Driving East to West through Southern Italy

Having explored the centre and east coast of Italy, we decide it’s time to now head over west, towards Naples (Napoli). We don’t leave until about 3pm but then cut across through the beautiful green centre of Southern Italy.

Only about 4 hours later we get to see the Mediterranean Sea. We also notice a much higher population, mixed in with a lot more tourists and probably a higher criminality rate. We’re not quite sure as to where to park the van over night, so try to get away from Salerno and the coastline a few kilometres where so many dark shadows seem to walk around in the late evening.
We quickly get into higher terrain and get lost in some very small hilltop villages with small streets, often one-way, and find ourselves driving backwards for many 100metres because we got to a dead end road and there was no way we could have turned around. After a few of these unfortunate wrong-turns, we find a place to park behind some living-apartments. Quite hidden, we feel safe to fall asleep and recover from the adventurous driving manoevres towards the end.

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Locorotondo and the Trulli of Alberobello

Logan read about Locorotondo being one of the most picturesque towns in Southern Italy, so we were curious about this. On the way I did some more research and stumbled over a place called Alberobello said to have cone shaped houses, only a couple of kilometres from Locorotondo.

First we explore the lovely little town of Locorotondo and stroll through the small alleyways gazing at the pretty white houses. The view from the top of the town is fantastic and we get to see some of the cone shaped houses from here. They are called Trulli.

 

 

 

       

        

On the way to Alberobello these Trulli seem to get more and more. First of all we are following the camper sign to find a place to park and stay the night. Up on the hill we find a nice spot to camp and then ride down with the bicycles to the town district with the Trulli.

It’s the first time we see tourists in a while! There are actually a lot of Italian holidayers. And then I catch a glimpse of an old lady sitting outside of her Trullo.

 

The cone shaped dome is actually of oriental origin introduced into Puglia by tribes from Asia Minor. The word “Trullo” derives from the Greek word “tholos”, which refers to a circular dome-shaped construction. On the highest part of the face of the cone, very ancient Pagan and Christian symbols were painted in white chalk. Symbols with magic and proprietary powers, all pointing in the directon of the first deity: the sun.

 

The roundish head of the pinnacles is meant to represent the link with the solar sphere and it is more noticeable in older trulli.

Originally some people used to put drawings of the horoscopes of the people who lived in the house on the house itself so as to bring good luck. The pagan symbols represented animals and human motifs connected with superstition and used to be put on the cones for protection. Finally ornamental symbols had only a decorative role and alluded to persons or particular situations.

In 1926, the Monti Quarter, St. Anthony’s Church was built, according to the traditional local trullo building technique.

We walk down the labyrinth-like alleyways and get a lot of footage of the cute little houses.

I couldn’t resist but buy a small 1Euro Trullo for myself which is now attached to our camera bag. We are also offered some home made chocolate liquor and cookies, gosh are they tasty!!!

Back at the campsite we enjoy a nice warm shower, do some laundry and actually wash the van from the outside. It was about time!

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Monti Sibillini National Park

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The weather has cleared up a little and we hit the road down to Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini. Monte Sibilla is one of over 20 peaks above 2000m and the park is home to over 50 species of mammals, including wolves, porcupines, wild cats and martens. On the way to Montemonaco, our starting point, we decide to go for the 18km Sibillini Traverse, which is said to have breath-taking views. During our 2-hour drive, we get to see spectacular views of the mountain peaks, some of them still covered in snow.
Finally in Montemonaco, we don’t exactly know how to find the “Refugi di Sibilla” , the actual starting point of the walk, as described in the “Hiking in Italy” Lonely Planet.

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We follow the road and a few signs saying “Monti Sibillini National Park” but there are many walks in this National Park. The road leads up a fairly steep Mountain and turns into a gravel road soon after. We zick zack up the mountain and I keep telling myself: “This can’t be it! This is insane!” The cliff next to us drops down a few hundred meters and the Globetrotter is working hard to climb meter by meter. It took about 15-20min but felt like an hour and we finally reach a hut. This is the rifugio! A sign hanging above the closed door reads its name. I take a few deep breaths and sigh in relief that we finally made it. Hungry, we are having a quick lunch and then get our gear on.

With hardly a trek visible, we follow little paths and a few poles stuck in the ground as way finders. We partly ignore the actual path and walk up the steep cliff, making slow progress, as my breath can’t be fast enough to get the oxygen into my brain. Every so often we have to stop but it’s not like we haven’t got an amazing view over Le Marche and even the Adriatic sea in the distance.

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Logan is first on top of the ridge and from his reaction I gather it must be a good view from up there. When I arrive seconds later, the view just blows me  a-w-a-y! I expected a valley with green hills on the other side. Instead we see a steep cliff and massive mountains around it. It felt a bit like standing on the ridge of a volcano and looking into the inside.

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We then walk along the ridge for over an hour, through snow and over rocks and grass; the 360-degree views impressing us all the way. In front of us lies Monte Sibilla, a stunning peak and the one the national park is named after. I’m feeling a little exhausted and we haven’t got much time anymore as the weather changes on the horizon. I know Logan would like to climb it quickly, so I tell him to leave everything with me and run up to the top with his go pro camera. He thinks it’s a great idea and is off a coupe of minutes later. Meanwhile I enjoy the stunning views in every direction and take some panorama photos with my iPhone 4S. There is a steep bit that needs to be climbed via a rope and I lose sight of Logan there. Soon after I see him at the top, both his arms stretched into the air. Then I even hear him! He does a sort of “howl” and I’m surprised how far the sound travels. I’m whistling back. About 15min later he is back at where I waited and we wander back together, cutting down the mountain diagonally to save some time. It is very steep and rocks are lying around everywhere. Walking sidewards makes you tired a bit so I turn on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and jokingly dance down the mountain. Yupp, Logan caught that on camera

and yupp, it will be on YouTube soon!

After probably about an hour, we are back at the van and Logan shouts out: “SHIT FRANNY!!!!” I think, someone must have broken into our van and run after him. “The car lights are still on!” Logan jumps inside and turns them off. I’m thinking this must be a joke!!! The imagination of having to push and roll the van down the zick-zack gravel mountain road turns my stomach upside down. The thought that I might even have to sit inside because only Logan is strong enough to push it makes me especially nervous. Logan jumps in to try and start the engine. While I’m still in panic, I suddenly hear the engine turn on
like nothing ever happened. “WHAT?” I say surprised. How is that possible? We are very lucky and I’m so relieved.
Time to go “home” to Colmurano…

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