Italy, Switzerland, France and Belgium

The final travel blog post for this summer holiday is here. The last leg of our journey took us through 4 European countries before we finally came home to The Netherlands.

The last post ended with Pozzuoli and I thought I’d also open this post with Pozzuoli. We found out which house had been the house that actress Sophia Loren had lived in as a youngster (from a video of Sophia Loren driving by the house a few years ago and pointing to it herself) and we stopped to take a picture as well. I’m not a real La Loren fan, but it was still nice to see her house…

The house is not far down the road from a volcanic crater called Solfatara (the house is on the Via Solfatara, pretty much next to the amphitheatre) so we took a look there as well. You can still see some yellowish colouring on the ground from the sulfur.

We drove around the whole area that day and ended up visiting an old Roman bathhouse and villa in Baia, with an upside down tree (with roots in a roof) and a huge dome which still (or again) housed water.

The next day we went to Napels. We had driven there one day before but traffic was chaotic, we even got caught in a little street where a wedding party was assembling…

We didn’t know where to park (nothing we saw looked that trustworthy to us as tourists with a Dutch numberplate), so left again that day, researched public transport and found a garage with P+R facilities so we could take a tram into the city. That first day in Napels we visited the archaelolgical museum with so much beautiful Pompei art (murals and mosaics and such) and also beautiful old statues. We could publish a book with all the beautiful things we saw, but here are just a few quick examples (as usual, click on images to enlarge)…

We walked into the city of Napels after our museum visit and the next day returned to just walk around and take it all in some more, which was very nice. It’s quite a chaotic and not so very clean city, but there’s a life and a charm to it that made me really enjoy it. We ate pizza Napoli (Mr E) and pizza Nuovo Napoli (me) in Naples and did not regret it. Pizza is sooo good there, which is nice to know as it’s the birthplace of the modern pizza now eaten everywhere around the world.

An evening and dinner in the nearby Pozzuoli was also charming…

After our few days in that area we took to the road again and drove north to Assisi. Boy, is Assisi beautiful! Very hilly with steep climbs but so beautiful. It was almost too much to take in. We were there for an evening and a morning and even happened upon a lovely free concert with an Italian singer infront of one of the many churches of Assisi.

We went on to Turin where we stayed for two nights which was fine but turned out not to be a fave. There were certainly pretty parts and we think it has a lot to offer culturally, but the city itself just didn’t do so much for us (although, those evening pictures sure are pretty). We also saw the long box in which the Turin shroud is kept and a replica image.

We then drove further north and took the St. Bernard Pass into Switzerland. The Alpine views were quite stunning. We took a little break, just so we could take it all in…

… then drove to Lake Geneva…

… and stopped in Vevey, the village Charlie Chaplin had lived in for the last 25 years of his life. His old house is now a Charlie Chaplin museum and as a film fan I just had to visit it. It was very nicely done, with actual Chaplin furniture, documents and a lot of info. Afterwards we drove by the graveyard to also visit his and his wife Oona’s grave.

Switzerland is quite expensive, so we went on to our hotel outside of Lausanne (which was only slightly cheaper) and then took a metro into town with the free metrocard we had been given. Lausanne didn’t quite impress us either, but maybe we weren’t looking in the right place and finding a dinner spot was a little challenging too, which didn’t help. Still, a little impression…

The next morning we drove a little to the west of Lausanne to the village of Tolochenaz. This is the village in which Audrey Hepburn lived in from 1963 until her passing in 1993. It’s also the village in which she was buried. I’d visited her grave before in a flyby visit back in the late 1990s but this time we took our time to walk around the village and also pass by her house which is closed to the public. I loved getting a better sense of the village and there’s even a little square now called “Place Audrey Hepburn” which features her bust.

We drove to France after and as we had some time left, we stopped to look around and eat something in a town called Besançon, which turned out to be the birthplace of French author Victor Hugo.

We ended in St. Dizier, a small town where we had booked a hotel for the night. Nothing special really, but nice for an evening.

On our almost last day, we drove on north in the direction of Belgium, where we had booked a hotel for the night in the city of Gent (Ghent). Junior and his friend were also heading up north after a two week holiday in the south of France. As we were texting each other during the journey we found out in the afternoon that we were only 60 km apart on the same highway! So, we arranged to meet up for a coffee at a stop along the highway. We got there half an hour before the boys, but it was fun to see them!

While the boys drove home, Mr E and I drove on to Ghent. We decided on a last minute boat ride there, had dinner and later in the evening Belgian beer (for Mr E) and wine for me. Ghent is such a beautiful town. The next morning we visited the famous Ghent Altarpiece, painted by the Van Eyck brothers in the 15th century. It has been recently restored and was absolutely beautiful!

We got home again yesterday at around 2 pm (Ghent is only a two hour drive away from where we live) but it already feels much longer as I immediately got roped into helping my dear aunt, who is not feeling well and is staying at my mom’s house for now, get a specific prescription filled which had its complications.

Still, this was a beautiful holiday with so much we have seen! Also, Mr E and I haven’t had that amount of time alone together since before we had kids and we really enjoyed it. We’re great together, with or without kids, and that’s a nice thing to acknowledge once again. It’s been beautiful but also quite busy so we’re glad that we don’t start back to work until next week…

We’re going on an adventure…

Well, sort of. Mr Esther and I are on our summer holiday right now.

As I type this I’m in a little cottage at the bottom of the Vesuvius, near Pompeii, in Italy. Mr Esther and I drove here, we arrived Saturday evening and it took us seven days to get here. This is our first summer holiday for just the two of us in 21 years and I admit that especially at the beginning it felt very weird to me to not have at least one kid with us. But we’ve been keeping in touch, so that is something. Missing the kids doesn’t mean I am not loving our time away, though. Mr E and I do really enjoy each other’s company and that is no different on this holiday.

Day 1 was Sunday, July 17th. We covered the longest distance that day, some 550 km to Würzburg, taking turns driving and eating our first Käsekuchen (German cheescake) of the journey in a little village called Münzenberg just off the highway to the north of Frankfurt.

We arrived in Würzburg at the end of the afternoon, dropped our things at our hotel and then walked into town to do our first exploration. After dinner we sat along the Main river and read while we also chatted and watched the people stroll by.

Incidentally, that was the last evening my e-reader worked! It has since died… Luckily I also have loads of books on my laptop and was able to transfer a few to my phone to read from there. Not that I particularly like reading from my phone but needs must. Anyway, we had booked two nights in Würzburg and good thing too because I was tired after working so hard leading up to my holiday, then of course the Ed Sheeran concert, then Saturday packing and Sunday travelling all day.

Day 2, Monday, was also spent in Würzburg. We slept in for a bit and then walked around town, visited the castle (no pics allowed to be taken inside) and also bought cheap but functional summer hats because we really needed them to protect us in the heat. I was annoyed by some of the tone in explanatory texts pertaining to last century’s German history (or lack thereof) in one of the churches, the cathedral and also the castle, which left a slight bitter aftertaste. Despite that, Würzburg is quite beautiful. Then in the evening we got a few groceries and sat down for a picnic on the other bank of the river Main for our dinner. It was lovely.

Day 3, Tuesday, we were back on the road again for our next leg of the journey which was about 420 km. We were driving past München and I had always wanted to visit the Dachau concentration camp, having studied the Holocaust and read so much about it. I just wanted to get an idea of the place and so we stopped there for a few hours. I did take a few pictures but it doesn’t feel appropriate sharing them in this post, it needs attention all on its own. Such concentration camp visits are always sobering and deeply depressing visits and a reminder of how low humanity can go.

From there we drove on to Austria. We stopped just across the border in Kufstein at the end of the afternoon for a little break and an ice cream…

…. and in the evening finally arrived in Innsbruck. Our hotel was in the center of town, so we walked into town for a late dinner there. Innsbruck is really beautiful, right in the valley between some mountains in the Alps.

Mr E had had a few days off work before our summer holiday started but I hadn’t and it was taking its toll. I wasn’t sleeping well, was finding it hard distancing myself from thoughts of work (even though I know I left everything fine and under control). I think I found it hard to let go because I am still new at that job and just needed to make sure over and over again in my head that all was fine. That and the travelling left me exhausted and so the next morning, Mr E let me sleep in a bit while he did a little sightseeing in Innsbruck on his own for an hour or so.

Day 4, Wednesday, we walked into town in Innsbruck again for lunch and a last look around…

… and then left town to drive through the Alps on the Brenner Pass road. We took the old road, not the highway and it was beautiful. When we left Innbruck we drove by one of the the oldest still functioning companies I have ever seen (Grassmayer Glockengiesser, i.e. maker of bells since 1599) and left the pretty city in the valley for our trip through the mountain pass. Pictures never seem to do the views justice.

Our drive that day was 275 km and we drove to Verona. That is, Mr E drove as I wasn’t feeling too well. We dropped our things at the guesthouse in Verona, freshened up and then walked into town for dinner and our first impression of the town. Especially the old Roman amphitheater is impressive! We saw that there was an opera festival happening and saw all the equipment for an upcoming performance of Aida already stored outside the theater. We walked around after dinner and also passed by the little courtyard to “Juliet’s house” but it was closed. It’s a bit weird that a fictional character has a real house but whatever. 😉

With the whole opera festival going on, Mr E and I decided to see what would be on the next day at the amphitheater. It was to be opera Carmen. Full disclosure – neither Mr E nor I have ever been to a live opera. There were still cheap tickets availabe so we figured that trying out opera in an old Roman amphitheatre would be the perfect thing to do! And so we booked tickets online for the next night as were staying in Verona for two nights anyhow.

Day 5, Thursday, turned out to be a perfect day to not be travelling on. I was really not feeling well by then, so I decided to stay in bed in our guesthouse for the whole day and nap and read. Mr E had to further discover Verona on his own that day and he did. He came back for a little rest himself at the end of the afternoon and by the early evening I felt fit enough to walk into town again. Mr. E pointed out a few more highlights, we had dinner and then headed off to the theater.

Boy, was it special experiencing our first live opera there! We bought little pillows to sit on and sat up on the old Roman stones to watch Carmen by Georges Bizet. It started at 9, after the sun had left the theater, and lasted four hours, including two 20 minute intermissions and one relatively quick scene change where we were asked to not leave our seats. The supporting cast was huge, we think there may have been around 200 people on stage at times, which made the choir portions of the opera sound absolutely stunning. This was an experience I won’t easily forget.

Day 6, Friday, was a travel day – about 300 km to Siena. I was still not feeling great, so Mr E did all the driving again. We stopped in a little town not far from Siena called San Gimignano, which is apparently sometimes referred to as the ‘Manhattan of the middle ages’ because of its still intact 12th -14th century towers. It’s quite small and sadly overrun by tourists but still beautiful.

At the end of the afternoon we arrived in Siena. At the guesthouse we had booked I sat down on the bed for ‘just a minute’ and promptly fell asleep for an hour! That did the trick, though, as I felt refreshed enough to walk into the old town after, which started basically around the corner from our guesthouse. We had dinner on the main square, which is so pretty! Late in the evening, just before we were to go to sleep, a drummer and guys waving flags, followed by a whole group of people, with some men wearing women’s wigs and dresses, passed by our window. It looked like it could have been a gay parade but the banner with coats of arms is usually associated with the horse racing in the streets of Siena on two days in the summer. so we had no idea what it was about. We waved and enjoyed the little show, though.

Day 7, Saturday July 23rd, was yet another travel day but we couldn’t leave Siena before first visiting the Duomo (cathedral). I especially loved the ceilings and those 15th century hymn books.

Near where our car was parked in Siena I saw this statue which totally reminded me of my tattoo! Spot the differences…

We had another long drive in the afternoon, some 450 km to a little cottage we rented at the foot of the Vesuvius right outside Pompeii. Mr E again did all the driving, even though I am starting to feel better. We got there in good time, at around 6 pm and it sure is very pretty here. It’s a little, simple, one-room cottage in the middle of a vineyard and we were welcomed by cats, which to a cat lover such as myself, is paradise. On one side of our cottage we look straight up to the Vesuvius mountain that once spewed its lava and pumice over Pompeii and on the other side we can see the bay of Napels! We have this cottage for a week.

Humid heat and mosquitoes do take a little away from the charm but we have airconditioning too so we will happily survive here. More adventures to follow in later posts…

The best part…

… of Father’s Day today are the hugs.

It’s been a low key, normal day with my son’s handball match, some care for my daughter who’s feeling a little off, and a visit to my father-in-law but best of all are these little moments. I’m so happy my kids have a dad they love and who loves them back.