Italian Road Trip: Part Two, Florence

We started this road trip with a drive down from Regensburg to Mantua. This is the next installment.

After resting up at our B&B in Mantua and spending some time walking around after having driven the whole previous day, we packed up our stuff and got back in the car for another two and a half hours. On paper. It felt a lot longer than that for several reasons:

  1. I’m not used to driving any kind of distance much anymore.
  2. There was a lot of construction on those toll roads (which is good, I guess — that’s what we were paying for)
  3. Seems like we were constantly heading into our coming out of a tunnel.
  4. Street names in Italy as listed in mapping resources apparently don’t have to be reality-based.

That last one really stuck it to us as we approached the Florence suburb of Fiesole. Viale Beato Angelico, Via Beato Angelico, Via Angelico, some jumble of Via-Delle-Beato-Angel-something or another, and Via Doccia. Via Doccia is the only one you can use to reliably arrive at Villa Fiesole. And they don’t show you that on their booking.com page or even their own webpage optimized for mobile devices (wha?). It’s only when you view it with a computer that they give you the address you can use to actually arrive.

villa fiesole mobile site directions

But, after all the frustration of tooling up and down the mountainside, consulting our GPS, Google Maps (mobile roaming, argh!), and intuition, we finally arrived, checked in and decided to eat in the hotel restaurant. The food was pretty good, but the best part was the cheese course at the end of the meal. If you get antipasti, primi, secondi, and then some dolci or a cheese sampler together with a bottle of wine at every meal, then you’re going to get full and broke pretty quickly.

Fortunately, we stopped doing that almost right away. You will save a lot of money if you get lunch from a sandwich shop, like these guys. Our Frommer’s Italy book steered us to I Due Fratellini and we were quite pleased with the quality of sandwiches coming out of this lunch counter not really even big enough for two workers.

That last one there was a nice place to stop in for a sit-down lunch after tromping around outside all morning admiring the architecture of Florence’s Cathedral, other churches, and nifty doorknobs. Because sometimes the sandwich-on-the-street-style just doesn’t cut it, either.

We took the opportunity, while in the leading city of Renaissance art, to visit the Uffizi. I can handle about two hours of serious art and the crowds there to experience it. I appreciate, as much as the next guy, I suppose, the ancient Greek and Roman mythological and political figures, and their fans in the Renaissance period. But dang! In my swordplay/wrestling matches with mythical creatures, I always wear pants.

Italian Road Trip: Part One, Oberpfalz to Lombardy

We had some time to kill (don’t let anyone tell you 30 days of vacation is necessarily easy to manage) and decided to give Italy one more try. We were kind of disappointed and stressed out by Verona, didn’t get enough time in Bologna (and were rather nonplussed by Tren Italia on the way back), and are running low on fancy imported olive oil.

So we rented a car, said goodbye to the work peeps for a week, and bugged out for Mantova (known in English as Mantua), the first stop on our road trip.

We stayed overnight in Mantua at the Armellino Bed & Breakfast in Mantua. It was a perfectly lovely room with very friendly and helpful hosts. We’d recommend them again anytime.

Getting to Mantua by car was pretty easy; our GPS did not lead us astray and the weather cooperated. We rolled up in front of the Armellino, and Massimo came out to advise us where to park the car. We dropped our bags and set out exploring, looking for dinner. While we were out strolling, the fog rolled in, making for an eerie evening with (seemingly) no one else out to enjoy the atmosphere.

We slept in the next morning, enjoying the Sbrisolona for breakfast and strolled around a bit more to get a glimpse of the city by daylight — or what little the clouds let through. After a nice lunch of pizza, we got back in the car and made our way further south toward Tuscany.


A weekend in Prague with Michigan Matt

Our pal Matt from Michigan came to visit the same week our pals Sara and Luke departed Regensburg for the next legs of their European Adventure. Maybe it was the stress from their travel bleeding over onto his trip, or just having two groups of houseguests in quick succession, but we goofed his arrival date at the Munich Airport. Sarah went down a day early to pick him up — and I’m sorry to say, I think I am culprit here, since my calendar entry for his arrival was on the wrong date and all the rest of the information we had was correct.

Well, he arrived with none of the stress that Sara and Luke had to go through, but as a result of my miscalculation, he got out of a plane, into a bus (to Freising), into a train (to Regensburg), into our apartment, into a bus (to Hertz), into a rental car to Prague. Poor guy — crammed into all those vehicles (he is a tall one, that Matt).

The drive to Prague from Regensburg would have been totally easy and relaxed but for the torrential rain and plentiful one- and two-car accidents we saw lining both sides of the highway. That inspired slow and careful driving on my part. Parking was also slow and careful — I enjoy the occasional highway or back country road trip, but I abhor city driving. But we parked and checked in at our beautiful rental apartment and felt a lot better about all of that after a dark Kozel.

We got as much outdoor stuff in as we could on Saturday, knowing that the rain would catch up with us again on Sunday. So Saturday yielded us all these glorious outdoor pictures, and Sunday was devoted to the Cathedral and the museum complex of Prague castle.

Southern Germany Sampler: Day 5 — Lunch with Monks, Then Home to Regensburg


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We got up on time at the Hotel Alte Post in Oberammergau and the fog coming out of the mountains was too much for me to resist.
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After driving straight through downtown Munich — isn’t there a better way to do this!? — we arrived at Weltenburg near Kelheim about two hours later. It was time for some lunch and a little exercise, hiking up the hill to the Roman fortress ruins and checking out the chapel at the monastery.

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And thus ended our road trip around Southern Germany.

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Southern Germany Sampler: Day Four — Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Zugspitze & Oberammergau


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The trip from Ulm to our next stop unexpectedly took us through Austria. This can be a hazard if you’re relying on your GPS (“Navi“) too much and not really paying attention to the entire route. We pulled into a gas station and coughed up the 7.90€ for the Vignette, but in hindsight, I don’t think that was really necessary. Of course, the Austrian highway administration doesn’t make this abundantly clear; it’s in their interest that you fork it over on the chance that you might need to use one of their federal roads.

PA131128But anyway, the ride through some small Austrian towns on our way back into Germany at Garmisch-Partenkirchen was a nice one: lots of curves along valleys and streams through pastures and hillsides. We had a good time keeping an eye on the altimeter (oddly the same effect upon hitting +1000m as -15m or so in the Netherlands). By the time we arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the weather had turned — thick, soupy fog enveloped everything. But fortunately, that was not the case at the summit. PA131114In fact, breaking through the cloud layer on the way up noticeably lightened the mood in the cogwheel train. It got even better as we looked out over Germany’s Highest Biergarten — sure didn’t look that way during our last visit.

Visibility in September 2004:
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Visibility in October 2010:
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Heading back down into the cold, gray fog didn’t dampen our spirits. Something stoopit did, though.

Southern Germany Sampler: Day Three — Burg Hohenzollern


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Burg_Hohenzollern_250x167.jpgWe got moving the next after waddling back from all that pork and potatoes and choucroute to our tiny hotel rooms. Check-out was pretty easy and over night parking at the parking garage across the street from the Hotel Aux Trois Roses was surprisingly reasonable — just 7€. After a dip into France, we arrived in Prussia.

Wait, what?

See that little red piece of of irritation there? That’s part of Prussia, hanging out all by its lonesome.

200px-Map-Prussia-Hohenzollern.pngPA121103This is the ancestral seat of the House of Hohenzollern, the family which rose to the power as the kings “in” and “of” Prussia, and became Emperors of Germany. Then a whole bunch of bad stuff happened, which you know about. But I remember visiting this castle, which is still privately owned to this day, in 1989 or ’90 and thinking “wait…we’re in southwest Germany. How is this place Prussian?” When you take the tour, donning the provided felt slippers over your street shoes to protect the flooring, the tour guide explains how the family grew and spread and rose to power.

That night we stayed in Ulm, really only because it’s about the half-way point between the Burg and our next stop at the very top and bottom of Germany. But Sarah found us a really great hotel/restaurant there through booking.com, which made it all the more worthwhile.

Hôtel Aux Trois Roses

The Joint

7 Rue De Zurich
67000 Strasbourg
France

http://www.hotel3roses-strasbourg.com/

The location of this hotel is pretty great – right across one of the myriad bridges leading into the heart of the old town. The gentleman at reception was very patient with our questions and even let us check in early, as our rooms were already prepared. I find in French city hotels, the rooms tend to be very small, and Trois Roses lived up to my expectation. Our double room was dominated by the double bed. Affixed the wall at the foot of the bed was a set of two large shelves – one high for the TV and one low for a small suitcase. Given the tightness of the room, the suitcase shelf was an absolute necessity. My brother’s single room down the hall was similarly cramped. When I walked in, he said “It feels like an airplane.” He wasn’t wrong. Here’s the kicker – the bathrooms were of normal size!

The stay was comfortable enough and the breakfast and parking were NOT included in the room rate (69€ for the double, 51€ for the single). Which was fine – what fun is it to stay in France and not go croissant hunting? I would consider staying there again if we go back to Strasbourg due to the price – but a little more elbow room might be worth a little more cash.

Southern Germany Sampler: Day Two — Strasbourg


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We got started pretty early after the Winzerfest in Neustadt/Weinstraße. We checked out of the Deutscher Kaiser after a nice breakfast spread and drove over to France. It’s really not that far to the border — it only took about 2 hours (there were a few traffic issues; it should have taken about ninety minutes). Our GPS was pretty reliable, but we still drove past the hotel at least one time — maybe twice — on our “final approach.” Strasbourg is historically contentious; sometimes it’s German, sometimes it’s French. Sure seems French to me with regard to the traffic patterns and street signs. We sort of did the “Look kids, it’s Big Ben” drive-by thing while zeroing in on our hotel.

PA111050We had great luck with the weather in Strasbourg, too &mdash, that part didn’t change with the border-crossing. We dropped off our bags into our rooms (nice of them to let us check in early) and hit the pavement on foot for the obligatory Croque-monsieur lunch, splitting a pitcher of blonde beer between me and Colin as well (all remaining travel for that day was to be done on foot). Strasbourg makes a very pretty impression, with its tree-lined canals and bridges, and sorta-German Fachwerk architecture. It also has the sleekest-looking trams I’ve ever seen.

Click a picture in the flashy thing below to embiggen it, or get your slideshow on with it too, if you like.

Cathedral - PA111067We made an obligatory Cathedral visit and I got some shots of the stained glass that weren’t too bad. But this wasn’t the only impressive church in town: St. Paul’s first caught our attention, because it was visible from our hotel’s street. We would have gone in, but it was under massive construction.

All this tromping around in German France (or was it French Germany?) made us work up an appétit, so we consulted our trusty Frommer’s France book (2005 edition, but this place obviously doesn’t change so fast), and came up with L’Ancienne Douane for dinner. It was a huge restaurant with plenty of capacity, which made me wary, since it was obviously geared toward groups of tourist, but it turned out to not suck completely. We tried to get all fancy on the appetizer and Colin really got more than he bargained for in trying to get something specifc to the region without renouncing his avoidance of choucroute (Sauerkraut)…but that’s a post for another day. Suffice it to say that both and quality and quantity demands were more than exceeded.

I think living and working here, perhaps in some EU capacity, would be nice.

Southern Germany Sampler: Day One — Heidelberg and Neustadt/Weinstraße

It’s been a while since we’ve had a new post here on Ye Olde Regensblogge, but that’s not without a good reason. Sarah’s brother Colin came to visit for over a week and we’ve been busy giving him the Southern Germany Sampler. Sarah planned us a route and picked great places to see / stop / eat / sleep along the way, with never more than a few hours in the car at a stretch.

Here’s the route, roughly. We started in Regensburg and made our way counter-clockwise along the path below (more or less).

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Tiefburg PA100944The first leg was from Regensburg to Heidelberg to visit our pals behind the heidelbergerin blog and get their expert advice on Weinfests in their area — they accompanied us to the big party in Neustadt an der Weinstraße. But first we had to get to our hotel in Heidelberg. We stayed in the Handschuhsheim district of Heidelberg at the Deutscher Kaiser. Note: this image is not of our hotel; it’s a neat-looking medieval castley dwelling thing called the Tiefburg) We were impressed by the friendly and helpful innkeeper (she seemed to be a one-woman show on the day shift at least). The room we rented — a triple — was generous in size and well-equipped. It could have used a touch-up job of paint in a few areas, but for 129€ for three people and a nice breakfast the next morning, I really wouldn’t complain.

We snagged a tram from the Handschuhsheim neighborhood to the Heidelberg Hbf, scooped up the Heidelberger along the way, and tried to haggle with the DB people at the Hbf about an upgrade on our group ticket. No dice. But it still was a pretty good deal to get to Neustadt an der Weinstraße, about an hour away via S-bahn. When we got there, the parade was already in full swing, and it kept going strong until a good three hours later. Much wine was sampled, along with some cheese, and the requisite Fest Food: grilled stuff. Nice way to spend an afternoon with friends.

Croatian Roadtrip — Last Leg: Udine, Italy

We were sad to depart Rovinj. All the advice and suggestions of our innkeeper hosts at Casa Garzotto were dead-on accurate, and we were really sorry to have to depart for Udine, Italy. It seemed like Croatia was also trying to keep us there — there was a pretty annoying traffic jam right on the border into Slovenia.

The border crossing into Slovenia –back into the EU — was merely a smile and a wave on through. It was just a few hours to our last overnight venue on this trip: Hotel Friuli, which seemed incredibly looming and nearly empty, after having stayed at the small hotels in Zagreb and Rovinj and the large, but full, Habsburg Getaway Joint in Opatija.

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Udine looked like a good place to go walk around and have a drink. So we did. I tried something new: an Aperol sour. I liked it so much that a bottle of it made its way home with us (more on that later). For dinner, S&J whipped out their really nifty regional Italian cuisine reference book and I think everyone managed to try something new. Nice food, reasonably priced, in a very casual atmosphere on the edge of the Udine Altstadt. Think Flingers or Tchotchke’s, but without all the flair.

The next day — our last — we drove to a nearby town for lunch, but couldn’t properly find our way out of Udine (blame the driver, the GPS, and Italian infrastructure in equal parts), couldn’t find the recommended restaurant once we got there, and really couldn’t see the point of sticking around there once we gave up looking for it. So we just came back to Udine, sought out lunch there (nice pizzas), took a few pictures, and then did the most important part of the Italian leg of the trip: the supermarket visit. We finally put that cooler to use with meat and cheese transportation home to Germany: some wonderful truffle salami and a nine-pound wedge of Grana Padano. OK, not really nine pounds, but at those prices, we could have bought that much. We also stocked up on olive oil (three varieties) and wine (one red, one white) and a nice big bottle of Aperol. Jul and Scott also made use of their cooler and it became clear that our rental car upgrade from Focus-class wagon to whatever class the Mazda 5, with its ample trunk room and dual sliding doors, was a good move. And that we seemed to have a considerable amount of luggage with us.

The ride home was pretty uneventful. Thanks to the speed limitless stretches of Autobahn, we dropped J&S off, jetted home to Regensburg, unloaded the car, gassed it up, and dropped it off, precisely one minute before it was due.