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Germany, The Passion Play, Tuscany, and Switzerland-Ongoing

Germany, The Passion Play, Tuscany, and Switzerland-Ongoing

Aug 24th, 2010, 06:43 PM
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Dukey - Enjoying your continuing adventures. Waiting for the next installation.

artstuff is offline  
Aug 24th, 2010, 08:47 PM
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Thanks to everyone for continued comments. Now about 6:40 AM here and I just took some photographs from our room's "widow's walk" of the sun rising over the lake. Since we have the entire day to make our way over to Oberammergau we are trying to decide whether or not it is worth it to take the slight detour down to Garmisch and try doing the cogwheel train and/or the cablecar up the Zugspitz. Meanwhile, the breakfast overlooking the lake is fast approaching. Skies this morning are again semi-overcast. We easily slept with the windows open last night and absolutely no need for air conditioning despite the humidity.

CarolJean: as to Stock...no, we did not go over to the Fraueninsel and saw no wedding parties enroute elsewhere or otherwise BUT I can see how this entire "scene" would be perfect for all of that. The way our hotel room is decorated I am sure it must double as some sort of "honeymoon suite" since it is quite romantic and private and the views are wonderful.
Dukey is offline  
Aug 24th, 2010, 10:27 PM
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Thanks Robyn I'll try the umlauts (later.) So sorry I will miss the Barfuesser but glad you cleared up the location Swisshiker.

Dukey I think Stock and the islands are very special (if the weather be good.) Sounds like your hotel is a good one.
CarolJean is offline  
Aug 26th, 2010, 06:54 PM
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Dukey, I'm really enjoying your report. I just got back from 5 weeks in Europe, which included Bamberg ("smoked beer"), Nurnberg,and Passion Play. We were at PP July 20 (I think)and as far as I could tell, every seat was taken for both parts of the play.

I hope you're having a great time and am looking forward to reading more about your trip.
PA_Kathy is offline  
Aug 28th, 2010, 09:33 AM
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Wednesday, 25 August – Prien am Chiemsee to Oberammergau

Originally we had planned to drive to Berchtesgaden to tour the salt mine and then drive over to Oberammergau from there. I had done the salt mine tour and had enjoyed it while on my first trip abroad in 1970. However, since neither of us have ever been to the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest point, we thought that might be a more interesting alternative and it was. Besides that, we wanted to be in Oberammergau in time for dinner in our hotel and doing the Zugspitze trip made that a lot simpler since Garmisch is only a few clicks south of Oberammergau.

We left Prien am Chiemsee after breakfast and made our way over to Bad Tolz where we somehow managed to ignore “the voice” on the Garmin Nuvi and found ourselves once again rolling though some small villages all of which were charming. Again this is a combination of woodland, rolling hills, and definitely farming country. Per usual, these small towns are immaculate and neat and really a lot of fun to pass through. Once through the spa town of Bad Tolz we hit the autobahn south to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and this had plenty of traffic but not enough to cause concern.

However, the autobahn actually ends a few clicks outside Garmisch itself and narrows down to a regular two-way traffic road and that’s where we had some difficulty. Traffic was backed up as far as the eye could see and we made our way very slowly (bumper to bumper type stuff) forward.

At one point a police car was sitting at a sort of turn-out area and he motioned me to pull over and stop. There were two policemen and one asked if I spoke German or English. When I responded that I speak better English than German he asked me to turn off the car engine and then produce my US driver’s license (not the IDP) and passport which I did. He moved away from our vehicle as he and his partner inspected both documents; there was at least one cellphone call made and I assume the passport number was being relayed/reported to someone. All of this lasted but a few moments and then the documents were handed back with a “Thank you” and we were motioned back into traffic. At least it wasn’t a speeding stop!

We have never been to Garmisch before and it was plenty crowded with what I assume were mostly visitors. A lot of my former Army friends who were stationed in Germany used to rave about the place and the skiing and it is apparently quite popular as a winter sports area.

I had read that the Zugspitzbahn rail station is located directly behind the more “regular” DB station so it was a simple matter of setting the GPS for the “bahnhof” and then finding a place to park the car. An all-day spot in the parking lot adjacent to the Zugspitzbahn station cost Euro 2,50 which we figured was a bargain.

Two round trip tickets to include the train up and the cablecar back down were Euro 47 each. We bought our tickets and waited about 20 minutes for the next train to leave.

The railway up uses regular adhesion and then when the ascent become much steeper, rack (cogwheel) assistance is employed. At Riffelriss the train enters a LONG tunnel which ends at the rail termination at Zugspitzplatt at a height of 2600 meters. The scenery going up is pretty spectacular and reminded me of many of the rail ascents I’ve done in Switzerland.

From Zugspitzplatt to the very summit (or the almost summit..more on that in a moment) you switch to a cablecar. At the top you are at a height of 2962 meters. You can climb from the large observation platform area a short distance to the very summit and a lot of brave souls were doing it. On clear days you can see as far as the peaks in Italy and Switzerland; we were fortunate to have little cloud cover.

Naturally, there were a LOT of visitors at the top and the place is used for weather observation, communications (you have to wonder just how they managed to get the equipment up this far at the beginning), etc., and of course there is Germany’s “highest beer garden” and also the highest bratwurst stand!

Once we get to Switzerland next week the plan was to do the ascent up Mt.Titlis but after this I think we are going to bag that idea since the Zugspitze trip is, IMO, far more spectacular.

We took the cablecar (the Eibsee –Seilbahn) back down from the summit. This thing is dramatic because it seems, at first, as if it is going almost straight (as in vertical) DOWN the side of the peak and you get great views of the beautiful blue-green waters of the Eibsee below…wonderful.

From the cablecar station at the bottom it is a short walk back to the Zugspitzbahn station for the return trip to Garmisch. All in all we spent between 4-5 hours on this and it was well worth the time and money.
Dukey is offline  
Aug 28th, 2010, 09:34 AM
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We made the fairly short drive from Garmisch to Oberammergau in less than 30 minutes, arriving at our assigned hotel around 5PM. Dinner was served from 6-8 PM and was included as part of the Passion Play package (two nights hotel with three meals per day and the play performance) we had purchased almost two years prior. There are certain performances every week which do not require an included hotel and meal package but I suspect the majority of folks who come to see the play every ten years probably get the package deal including folks who get it through the various tour operators.

The Passion Play: some general background information for those who aren’t familiar.

The even dates back to a supposed vow made by the residents of the village in 1633. The plague was once again making one of its many repeated appearances and was rampant in the entire region. The village residents vowed to portray the “passion, death, and resurrection” of Christ every ten years if that would keep the plague away from the village. We are told that “from that moment on not one person succumbed to the Black Death.”

Initially, for a couple hundred years the performances took place in the cemetery located next to the Roman Catholic church in the village. By the 19th Century the crowds of attendees was growing and the performances were moved to another part of the village where the theatre building now stands.

The theatre building of today holds between 4-5 thousand as near as I can tell. The audience sits in a covered and raked auditorium; the stage itself is in the open air. Since we saw it in 2000 a fully retractable and stage-lit roof has been added.

Between some of the scenes of the play are inserted so-called “living images” which consist of actors in motionless scenes which point to Old Testament events (e.g., Daniel in the lions’ den, the despair of Cain, etc.) which are meant to “aid theological analysis and serve as foci for meditation.”

The music itself comes from a combination of pretty much full orchestra as well as an on-stage choir with soloists..an oratorio type situation.

Basically, all the performers are local (Oberammergau and surrounding area).

Of course, there has been plenty of periodic controversy. There have been periodic and repeated charges of “anti-Semitism” and the play organization has gone to “accurately portray Jewish religious and cultural elements.”

In the 1930’s there was a special performance for Hitler. The “lore” is that the one non-Nazi in the village was asked to play the part of Judas!

For some it is probably pure theatre; for others a combination of theatre and religious experience.

We asked several folks in the village about the scale of business this year (the play runs from mid-May to early October) and we were consistently told there have been good and not-so-good days. There are usually 5 performances every week and all the restaurants, wood carver stores (and there are a LOT of those) souvenir places, clothing stores, etc., are open for business as the town is absolutely jammed with people.

This year the play began at 2:30 in the afternoon with a dinner break from 5 PM until 8 PM; we got out about 10:45 PM. The performances and singing are all in German. Very melodic music and the performances were quite good IMO; Pontius Pilate was particularly evil-looking this year and, as in the past, the crucifixion scene is VERY realistic. Overall a worthwhile and enjoyable experience for us. Great gelato in town too!!!!
Dukey is offline  
Aug 28th, 2010, 06:53 PM
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Dukey, continuing to enjoy your report. Zugspitze is truly amazing. Glad you had good visibility. You really feel as if you are at the top of the world! We were there in July, 2008. There had been a snowstorm a few days previous. Unfortunately, two climbers had died on the mountain in that storm – made news throughout the world. When we reached that top viewing area you described so well, the staff was still shoveling off the fresh snow. I had a jacket on but was wearing sandals (who needs socks in July in Europe?) However, the sun was so strong that it wasn’t a problem. What a view!

Thank you for your description of the Passion Play and your info about Oberammergau. Happy to hear that business is brusque in the town because it is so crucial to the economy of the area. You touched on that sensitive subject of anti-Semitism (real or perceived) in the play over the years. For those interested in that subject OBERAMMERGAU: The Troubling Story of the World’s Most Famous Passion Play by James Shapiro is an excellent read.

Continuing to follow and wishing you good weather and safe driving…
latedaytraveler is offline  
Aug 28th, 2010, 08:57 PM
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The rail trip from Verona to Florence yesterday was basically smooth and uneventful. Both the train segments, Verona to Bologna and then from Bologna to Florence were on Eurostars and both had lots of passengers.

When we arrived in Florence we decided to take a taxi from the station to the Hertz rental agency. I knew where it is located on a map but I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to find despite the fact that it appeared to be only a few blocks from the station. The taxi ride cost Euro 7 and only took a few minutes.

The car rental office was small and busy but in less than 15 minutes we were on our way in an Alpha 4-door diesel 6-speed (stick) which has plenty of pick-up in the lower gears and is pretty easy to “speed shift” in the uppers.

The GPS (another Garmin Nuvi but with a different “voice” than the one in Germany and better graphics) seems to work fine although I was shown, on a map by the Hertz agent where to “turn it off” when we come back to Florence, “because the [one-way] streets have changed.”

Took the autostrada south toward Siena..lots of speed cameras (according to the GPS) and people aren’t moving nearly as fast as we experienced in Germany but that may depend on the actual route used.

We are spending four nights at a place called Tenuta di Ricavo which is northeast of Siena. This hotel was originally purchased by the current owner’s grandparents back in the 1940’s and at that time it was basically a run-down farm estate. The original owners renovated the place into a family home. After the husband’s death, it was turned into a modest pensione and eventually into a hotel “hamlet” since the place originally was a very small village with a church where approximately 120 people lived.

Our room consists of a separate living room, bathroom, and the bedroom. The latter faces east with a wonderful view over the hills. Lots of olive, cypress, and pine trees and as I write this the sun is just coming up.

We had a little trouble finding the place at first since it is well off the main paved road and down a somewhat bumpy gravel one. Fortunately we stopped at a local gas station and someone there spoke enough English to reassure me I was on the right road. I have a fairly well-detailed road map of Tuscany but sometimes maps only go so far.

We had dinner here last night. The hotel has a delightful restaurant called “The Black Sheep” and some wonderful food thus far. We ate outside and at one point the resident peacock made his appearance for his evening meal. The owner told me he simply showed up one day and they have been feeding him ever since.
Dukey is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 10:52 AM
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Dukey - awesome report. Please feed us more.
pauljagman is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 11:44 AM
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We are going to be in Garmisch the first week of Sept, and want to visit Omerammergau but arent going to see the Passion Play . There is no play on Wed sept 8, but there are performances other days that week. Does it make sense to go during the play (say 3 pm) so the town is less crowded ? If so, will we be able to park? What will the town be like on a non performance day? Thank you, and Dukey the reports have been wonderful. Sounds like you are having a great trip .
cathygreen is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 12:01 PM
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>during the play (say 3 pm) so the town is less crowded ?
Yes, the all spread out during the break and vanish after it.
> If so, will we be able to park?
Most people use busses to and from the play. You will not be allowed to get into town with your car unless you tell them you want to go somewhere else than Passion Play. A shuttle bus will take you from the parking to downtown instead.
>will we be able to park?
There is 1h or 2h free parking in town but not that many spaces.
>What will the town be like on a non performance day?
Dead equals nice with many closed stores or stores without american shoppers. They seem to be the only people buying whatever they sell in town.
logos999 is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 01:10 PM
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'They seem to be the only people buying whatever they sell in town.'

logos999 - I think that American shoppers buying 'whatever' is probably a good thing for Oberamemrgau. I admit, everytime I've been there I've bought a carving. (I'm hoping they were really made in Germany but who knows. They could have been made in China for all I know.) They do bring a smile to my face every time I look at them!
pauljagman is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 01:20 PM
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29 August – Sunday

Breakfast this morning on the quiet terrace of the hotel’s restaurant. The usual spread including cold meats, granola, yoghurt, various delicious bread types, and a wide variety of cakes, cheeses, soft boiled eggs and wonderfully STRONG Italian coffee. All of this under a beautifully smog-free blue and cloudless Chianti sky…very quiet and peaceful. We set off for the visitor-madness that is Florence in order to “do” one specific place: the eventual home of the Medici family, the Palazzo Vecchio. For those less familiar with it, some background: it was built by di Cambio between 1299 and 1302. The Medici family didn’t really inhabit it until around 1540 or so. These days it is in use by employees of the city of Florence but certain sections are open to the public (the “museo”) for a fee. I would say one of the most imposing and memorable sections is the Salone del Cinquecento (“Hall of the 500”) which is full of various pieces of free-standing sculpture and frescoes. The room itself is in a word, enormous and contains Michaelangelo’s “Victory” which I had heard about for years but had never seen,

Of greater interest to me were the private apartments of Eleanor or Toledo, Cosimo I’s wife. The small chapel that dates from around 1540 contains the wonderful Bronzino frescoes. The building also contains the sculpture of Judith slaying Holofernes which is huge…reminded me of some of the works in the Boghese in Rome. Definitely worth the trip north.

Being Sunday, the Duomo itself is closed to visitors but there were PLENTY of visitors hanging around outside on the steps. The whole thing never, ever fails to impress me to include the wonderful green and other pale-colored marble walls. Parts of the upper building are under scaffolding and it looks as if some sort of cleaning process is taking place.

We simply strolled around after that generally enjoying the atmosphere. Bought a piece of decorative pottery in one store; looked at some men’s shoes (I admit to an absolutely definite weakness for Italian shoes) and, of course, the husbear just HAD to have some gelato (at definite “tourist”;;yeah, that’s US!!!!...prices of Euro 5 for two scoops which my waistline and I resisted).

The city wasn’t nearly as mobbed today perhaps because it is Sunday and it was nice to retreat back into the hills later this afternoon. Bought some fresh fruit at a roadside stand along the way and before getting onto the autostrada.

This afternoon we spent some time in one of the hotel’s two outdoor pools. Lots of geckoes darting about and sunning themselves at water’s edge and that water was plenty refreshing and definitely unheated.

Later in the afternoon after doing some laundry and having a brief nap we drove over to San Gimignano. Far be it from me to be crass enough to even suggest that this medieval masterpiece of a town with its many towers and commanding and stunning views over the beautiful countryside could even approach the status of “tourist trap” but after parking and walking into the center around 7 PM on a Sunday we were greeted with an absolute throng of visitors threading their way amongst a variety of merchants with tents set up and selling everything from roasted and sugar-coated nuts, a wide variety of sweets, lightly-sugared potato-chip like slivers of dough, as well as the ever-present knock-off clothing items, purses, scarves, and so forth. Lots of wine and olive oil stores, beautiful and colorful pottery pieces, wooden ware, etc…all of this set against the magnificent towers and, among other things, the wonderful former “duomo” with its wonderful interior decorations including a lot of striped arches and plenty of gold stars. Despite the throng of visitors including US the place is wonderful and was definitely worth the drive.

Afterward, we drove along a very twisty road which our little Alfa handled with ease as we were treated to even more of these stunning views to the town of Castellina in Chianti for dinner at a trattoria called “La Torre” which was recommended to us by the folks here at the hotel: They were right! Wonderful food to include a salad of greens and sheep’s cheese and walnuts; very hearty and filling vegetable soup, and then raviolis filled with cheese and spinach in a black truffle sauce. Dessert consisted of several different types of fruit tart including lemon, fig with a walnut crust, and blueberry..the crusts of these creations were so “short” I am certain they should be pictured as culprits in every cardiology text as the absolute epitome of “bad” cholesterol carrying foodstuffs..but what the hell, you only live once and if it turns out to be a couple days shorter because of this I’ll continue to live dangerously.
Dukey is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 08:26 PM
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Am sitting here as the sky in the east pinks up in anticipation of the sunrise and will make some general comments shortly.
Dukey is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 08:43 PM
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As to Oberammergau on non-play days.

People arrive for their hotel packages on NON-play days as we did so nobody is going to be keeping people out of town on those days. Parking is hard in the center of town at ANY TIME of the year; I know because I have visited several times durinng non-play years, both in and out of the so-called "season."

The wood carvers are still there and open for business. Some of the figures are partially done by machine and finished by hand; others are done totally by hand from start to finish.

As to arriving ON a play day...walking into town from the various parking lots set up FOR the play is not a problem although I doubt any of those buses would be running since they only run for play goers and they only run at the beginning and end of the performance and during the dinner break.

As to just WHO is in town "buying all the stuff they sell"..believe me, there were a LOT of non-American visitors unless all those languages I heard being spoken, and ESPECIALLY all the GERMAN was learned at some Berlitz class in Brooklyn.

I think you can easily discount the comments made by people who seem to enjoy perpetuating stereotypes.

And that brings me to the whole concept of "what to wear." Not too long ago I would have agreed that few people wear shorts over here...NO MORE. I have seen a lot of MEN (and more than a few women) in shorts, both the usual "Bermuda" length as well as the more common "three quarter" length and yeah, I brought my three quarters and have used them. In general, we have, as we ALWAYS DO, seen every conceivable sort of dress on folks so comfort is the obvious rule of thumb and I hesitate to even use the term "rule" when it comes to this

Weather: it has been perfect throughout except for the rain we had in Nurnberg and the humidity here in Italy has seemed low. We've been sleeping with the windows open every night up here in the hills and even in Florence yesterday it was very pleasant..not muggy at all.

Today we are driving over to Siena to see some specific sites. We've been before but that was during Palio time but I have no doubt there are going to be lots of visitors there today.
Dukey is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 09:53 PM
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>perpetuating stereotypes.
Are't you the one according to your schedule and statemets? You just don't notice it anymore. O.K.
logos999 is offline  
Aug 30th, 2010, 03:48 AM
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Still enjoying every morsel, Dukey!

I so agree about "comfort" when it comes to clothing!

ahhh yes, Sienna...first time I ever tasted wild boar stew
swisshiker is offline  
Aug 30th, 2010, 06:16 AM
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Yes, there seems to be a lot of wild boar stuff on menus around here and we saw several dishes featuring such at the restaurant last night.

30 August-Monday

Another beautiful day. Lots of huge towering clouds…some pure white and others dark with rain. The sky itself a wonderful deep blue and warm without any feeling of mugginess.

After breakfast a slow drive over to Siena. The last time we visited was during the August Palio several years ago and we were in the duomo for the blessing of the contrade. This time around we really wanted to see the duomo in some depth.

Paid parking lots are scattered outside the old city walls and we found space near the Basilica di San Domenico. It is a quick walk from there on a lot of up and down somewhat narrow streets to the cathedral itself.

The front entrance is a riot of color with lots of pink marble. Inside are the many columns with their black and white stripes overseen by the vaulted ceiling with the many golden stars against a blue background. But if nothing else, it is the floor that is riveting with its large number of inlaid works commemorating/illustrating mythological and biblical subjects//events such as the fasting Elijah receiving the “steeds and chariots of flame.”

The sculpted Pisano 13th C pulpit with its depiction of a variety of biblical scenes and which rests on four lions is stunning. There is also a large bronze of St. John the Baptist by Donatello in a separate side chapel which reputedly also contains St. John’s arm which he used to baptize Jesus.

Another really overwhelming sight is the Piccolomini Library with its collection of large illuminated manuscripts which are encased below very high walls covered in frescoes by Pinturicchio which were completed sometime in the 1500’s.

Overall, the entire duomo interior is a real marble-lover’s delight and unlike some of the interior walls of St. Peter’s in Rome there doesn’t seem to be much, if any faux work.
Dukey is offline  
Aug 30th, 2010, 09:31 PM
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Tuesday 31 August

This is our last full day in Italy and as I write this the sun is just coming up in a totally cloudless sky. A cold front blew through here yesterday afternoon and it got rather breezy and chilly. Slept with the windows closed last night and this morning I took a brief walk through the hills surrounding the hotel wearing a fleece jacket for some warmth.

Last evening we got into the car and took the short drive over to nearby Castellina again for a bite to eat. Ate at a small combination wine bar/restaurant “Il Cantelluci” located just off the small main square. Very laid back kind of place with more than a few local residents standing at the inside bar enjoying either glasses of wine or beer. We decided to eat inside due to the chill and the food served was fairly simple. We shared another of the “typical” salad dishes made with mixed greens, shreds of carrot, walnuts, and the sheep’s cheese.

Salad “dressing” in these places seems to be pretty much the same…balsamic vinegar which is very pungent and comes in a spray bottle along with locally-produced olive oil.
We followed that with a very simple pasta dish of spaghetti dressed with a sweet tomato and meat sauce. No other major spices such as garlic or oregano seemed to be included and this was fine. It was enjoyable just being in the place and watching the other diners who seemed to all roll in around 7:30 or so in the evening.

Afterward we walked a couple doors down to the local gelato place where we had to make the tough choice amongst about twenty different offerings. Finally went with the chocolate and I have to say that this “chocolate” is about as intense and rich as the stuff can possibly get…it really is wonderful.

A few general observations. Driving on the local roads is fairly easy despite the fact that many of them are very twisty, up and down, sharp curves, etc., but they seem to be in very good repair and are, for the most part very well signposted. In fact, there are a LOT of signs and a bunch can come all at once to include a variety of different speed limit signs one right after the other.

All these posts we see about people receiving speeding tickets from Italy make a lot more sense now since there seem tpaino be speed cameras everywhere, but mostly on the autostradas where in general it seems that folks obey the speed limits to some greater degree than we saw in Germany last week.

We have certainly not regretted having a rental car and it was imperative that we have one for the hotel we are staying in. Yesterday I took a good LOOK at our car’s exterior and it has all sorts of scratches here and there on the paintwork so that alone made me happy about the choice of taking the full insurance.

A lot less horn tooting in traffic over here than we seem to have back home and it isn’t that Italian or European drivers are any less impatient because they all seem to want to “get there” and as soon as possible. What you really have to be on the lookout for here seems to be the people using Vespas and other scooter types since they simply dart in and out, cut in front of you when stopped at traffic signals, etc.

I have also learned that unless we are planning to park in one of the many lots which have entrance and exit gates where you take a ticket upon entry and then insert the ticket into a machine and pay for the parking prior to exit, you need to have plenty of small change..mainly Euro 1 or Euro 2 coins since I haven’t seen any pay parking machines used for the on-street parking places which will take bills (as those in the lots will do).

More than a few of the smaller local restaurants in the smaller places don’t seem to get going dinner-wise until about 7-7:30 in the evening. More than a few seem to be closed on Mondays.

Clothing I have already talked about. When we were in Siena we saw some street repair workmen wearing high visibility shorts in that bright international orange color with the luminous tape so they know what works when it gets hot over here. Last night at the restaurant we saw a couple of younger folks in short sleeves but also wearing neck scarves…I’m not sure if this was some sort of fashion statement or what.

This morning after breakfast we will probably return to Florence for some more sightseeing. It has been wonderful to be out here in the “hill country” and I am certain that Florence will be a LOT busier today than it was when we visited on Sunday. It is nice to be to retreat from the mobs for some peace and quiet.
Dukey is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 01:33 AM
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Love your references to Castellina. We also loved La Torre. I think I had paparadelle with wild boar last time. And the gelato shop in Castellina was among the best we had in Italy.
travelgirl2 is offline  

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