Buongiorno Aosta, Ça va? Alles klar?

Mid-May 2017 we bugged out for (wait for it…) Italy again. But only just barely, kinda.

We started the trip out with a visit to Berlin to spend some time with our pal Snooker; that was in the works long before work stuff started amping up for me. So when it became clear that I needed a distraction from work stuff, we lumped a 6-day trip onto our 4-day weekend in Berlin with one stop overnight in our own place on the way from Berlin down and over to Aosta, Italy.

We clocked over 2500 KMs on our car — the biggest single trip yet. Spending all that time in the car, we needed some audio distraction. The audio in it is laughably poor, due to crummy factory speakers (and not enough of them) and some wacky AUX input wiring issues, so about a year ago we bought an Anker bluetooth speaker1 for use in the car. It’s got a great battery life and connects easily to either of our phones. It’s loud and clear enough for podcasts or audiobooks over the road and wind and engine noise of our car. It’s a little less well-suited for enjoying music while driving, to be sure, but for spoken audio, we’re quite happy with it.

Regensburg to Berlin and Back

We’ve done this drive a couple times. We got a hotel room at Motel One An der Urania which was nicely-located. A little expensive to park for four days, but better than most of the other options. It was a pretty easy walk over to Nollendorfplatz for breakfast at Café Berio twice.

Liechtenstein

Instead of a 7+ hour drive from Berlin to our digs in Liechtenstein, we opted for a 5 hour drive, change of laundry, and a night in our own bed before pressing on with a 3 hour drive the next morning to a ski resort in the hills above Vaduz, Liechtenstein.

Switzerland and Austria have a good racket going down there with the border crossing into/out of Germany near Lindau. You’ll be on three countries’ roads, which could very well mean you need a Vignette for Austria and Switzerland. We knew we’d need one for Switzerland for sure (about 40 CHF, valid for all of 2017), but weren’t 100% sure about Austria, so we coughed up the 8€ for a 10-day Austrian Vignette, too.

Part of the reason for a stay in Liechtenstein was that it was kind of on the way, but we also just wanted to experience a new country. Our list of unvisited European countries is growing ever-smaller. 2

Liechtenstein was pretty. And pretty small. I got the impression the Royal Oak post office is a bigger building than the seat of the government for the whole country of Liechtenstein. We strolled around Vaduz looking for a place for dinner on a Monday night — just about everything was closed. A single-person pizza and a beer ran about 30 CHF.

Oh, speaking of Swiss Francs: as we were walking down the mountain roads and catching the bus, we realized we had Euros in usable denominations, but only one 100 CHF bill. When the bus picked us up, I asked the driver if we could pay in Euros. He was reluctant; probably tired of Eurozone tourists forgetting that Liechtenstein uses the Swiss Franc. I asked if he’d prefer to break our 100 CHF bill, and that was A-OK with him. We ended up buying two all-day adult Bus Liechtenstein passes for about 10 CHF a piece. For some of the routes on the bus system there, during certain times of the year, you officially have to call ahead a reserve your transit. When we asked the driver about that he said “yeah, normally, but now I know and I’ll watch for you downtown and make sure you get back up the mountain.” Phone numbers for that are posted on the bus schedules at the stops. I shudder to think what a taxi ride up the mountain after our dinner would have costed.

Aosta Valley

There are a lot of names for this place:

  • Valle d’Aosta (Italian)
  • Vallée d’Aoste (French)
  • Val d’Oûta (Francoprovençal)
  • Augschtalann or Ougstalland (Walser German)

Whatever you call it, it was a new part of Italy for us to discover.

Altstadt

We stayed just outside the Altstadt at B&B Mu — and our hosts were delightful. We highly recommend them. We enjoyed walking around the city. Like Regensburg, it’s a couple thousand years old, with a Roman fortress at its core, and plenty of architecture left over from that era.

We also took a few trips around the region in our car and via train.

Gaby and Gressoney-Saint-Jean

B&B Mu left us a pamphlet of castles you can visit in the region. We headed up to Gressoney-Saint-Jean to see Castel Savoia. On the way, we drove through a gorgeous little town called Gaby. We would have eaten lunch there, but it was Wednesday, and apparently the town shuts down on Wednesdays. A little bit further up the road, a small sandwich board at a hillside hotel caught my eye, and we pulled in for a fantastic, very generous prix fixe lunch at Hotel Fiordiroccia.

That was all just drive-by chance on our way to Savoy Castle, a summer residence of Queen Margherita. Upon arrival, we took a tour of the interior of the castle. It would have been a great value, but it was only in Italian, and ours is not up to snuff for architecture, dynastic heraldry, or late nineteenth century royal family politics.

Turin’s Museum dell’Automobile

On one of the predicted-to-be-rainier days, we took a two-hour train ride to Turin3 to visit the automobile museum there. We didn’t have any expectations going in really, but I was quite impressed with the layout and interactivity of the museum exhibits — despite the PREGO NON TOCARE everywhere (it is a museum and they were priceless antiques after all). There was a good selection of early European and Golden Age North American car models there. But the clear focus was on FIAT-affiliated designs and designers.

It was more like a Pininfarina museum than anything.

Arrivederci

Some closing thoughts:

  • Good weather for nice views made all the difference on the way there and around the region
  • We didn’t seek anything else out in Turin but the car museum — and what we saw of that part of the city was not impressive
  • Really gotta get one of those VHS Italian or French for tourists classes in — we had no language problems, but it felt like we were causing so much extra effort on everyone else
  • We generally ate well, but the food situation in Aosta felt a little weird: there were elements of Tuscan or Neapolitan cuisine in there, but plenty of local alpine touches, making it regionally distinct
  1. I bought it from amazon.de, but I can’t recommend that in good conscience anymore until they stop funding breitbart.com with ad revenue. []
  2. Look out, Andorra and San Marino and Scandinavia — you could be next! []
  3. changing trains in Ivrea []

A week in Eastern Italy

October was a big month for us. Really big. Yuge Enormous, even.

  • We went on vacation at the beginning of October.
  • We moved from our beloved literal island in the Danube onto a figurative island in the city.1
  • I changed jobs and office buildings at work.2
  • We went on vacation again at the end of October.

It’s almost the end of November now, and it feels like we’re still trying to catch up from October. We’d planned this trip many months in advance, coordinating with my parents and their friends in several different countries, and so bailing or rescheduling it to let us concentrate on our impending move across town and adjustment to a working kitchen again was not an option. Not that we wanted too, anyways — after getting the details mapped out with the new landlady and previous tenants in our new place, it was good to get away from a stressy bit at work. Continue reading A week in Eastern Italy

  1. More on that later, maybe. []
  2. Same boss, same employees, but new, old, and different stuff for me. Probably no more on that, ever — here at least. []

Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part V: the Drive Back

Catch up on the previous episodes here:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Early on the morning of our departure from Naples, Rachel took a taxi to the airport and flew to Sicily to continue her adventures there. We started a long drive back from Naples to Regensburg, stopping overnight twice along the way. Continue reading Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part V: the Drive Back

Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part IV: Naples and Pompeii

It’s been a little hectic around here since we got back.

Our story thus far:

  • Sarah flew down to Venice to meet up with our pal Rachel
  • Cliff drove down to Piombino Dese to pick them up at the train station and eat and sleep at Ca’ de Memi
  • The three of us drove to Siena and explored for a few days
  • Then we made our way to Rome, where we walked A LOT and ate a lot
  • After five days in Rome, planned a route through Gaeta, tried some tielle there, and braced ourselves for Neapolitan traffic

It. Was. Bad. Continue reading Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part IV: Naples and Pompeii

Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part III: Exploring Rome on Foot and Departure

We walked our feet off in Rome. And why not? We had great weather the whole time we were there, and armed with some offline Google Maps marked with stuff we wanted to see or eat, we navigated on foot a lot after taking the Metro in from Cornelia to someplace more central, like Barberini or Spagna.

One glaring and super-convenient exception to that: our hotel offered a shuttle service from their reception to the entrance lines of the Vatican Museums. It was dirt cheap but classy door-to-door service — one of our favorite things about the hotel.1 Continue reading Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part III: Exploring Rome on Foot and Departure

  1. Alas, they were pretty disappointing in some other ways. See the previous post. []

Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part II: Sleeping and Eating in Rome

Arrival and Hotel

We drove in from Lago di Bolsena sometime around 7:00 p.m., expecting to have missed rush hour traffic. Whoops: we landed smack in the middle of it. A friendly taxi driver told us Italians start and finish their workday later, and consequently rush hour traffic runs later. We followed instructions from our GPS and rolled up to our hotel, the Church Palace, oohing and aahing at the gated entrance to the generous and secluded parking around, set several hundred yards back from the Via Aurelia. Continue reading Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part II: Sleeping and Eating in Rome

Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part I

In May 2016 we took our longest road trip yet through Italy. It was a challenge to plan, given three participants on two continents, all with their own scheduling constraints, but we pulled it off to great success.

1st Leg, Regensburg to Piombino Dese to Siena

Continue reading Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part I