Saturday, November 21, 2009

May 27, 2009 - Turin, Itally

The Villa Rey campsite - the only one in the vicinity of Turin - sits atop an impossibly steep hill behind the town and is accessed by a gear grinding switchback road devoid of passing places. The condition of the site was not for the faint of heart and it took all the courage we could muster to slurp the black tank into the insect smothered orifice provided for the purpose, let alone contemplate taking on fresh water. We were glad to be gone once our mission was completed
Turin is capital of the Piedmont region of Italy and is located between the Po River to the southeast and the arc of the
Alps separating Italy from Austria, Switzerland and France. With a population of around 900,000, Turin is the third largest metropolitan area in Italy, after Milan and Rome.
In the 18th century, Turin was the birthplace of efforts to unify Italy and actually became the capital city in 1861 before this responsibility was moved, first to Florence and then, finally, to Rome. To compensate for the economic and prestige loss caused by the transfer of government, Turin industrialized itself in the latter part of the 19th century with, among other things, the establishment of Fabrique Italian Automobile Torino better known as FIAT. Lancia and Alfa Romeo automobiles are also headquartered there.
Many of the city's public squares, castles, gardens and palazzi were built by Sicilian architect Filippo Juvarra in baroque, rococo and neo-classical styles modeled after the classical French architecture of Versailles. Turin is also famously known as the home of the contentious Shroud of Turin. See pictures about town here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

May 26, 2009 - Milan, Italy

We had not previously been to northern Italy and had been warned that, apart from the lake areas such as Maggiore, Como or Garda, the region is a none-too-exciting industrial landscape with few redeeming features. As is our wont, "Wet Paint" and similar cautionary labels always develop a fatal attraction in us and the advice simply made us the more determined to visit and check it out for ourselves.
As it turned out, the pundits were correct. Nothing worthwhile in the scenery department - just endless suburban wasteland and scads of traffic. We did accomplish our specific targets, the cities of Milan and Turin, and endured some unique camping experiences along the way.
The Citti di Milano campground, 5 miles west of downtown, was pleasant enough with flat open sites. An unusual feature however, was that it also seemed to serve as a petting zoo with small herds of goats, flocks of sheep, rabbits and tortoises roaming around, and, horror of horrors, about twenty peacocks. These latter creatures randomly emitted loud, piercing shreiks on a 24/7 basis while strutting around the sites like pompous policemen. Were we glad this was just a one night stay.

The weather remained hot and exhausting but the visit to Milan was worth the effort. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million and the urban area is the fifth largest in the EU at around 4.3 million. The entire metropolitan area, by far the largest in Italy, is estimated to be 7.4 million people.
The English word millinery, referring to women's hats, is derived from the name of the city and Milan is renowned as one of the world capitals of design and fashion vying with such places as New York, Paris, Rome and London. 
Gucci, Prada, Versace, Missoni, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Valentino, Trussardi, Luxottica and Moschino are some of the renowned companies headquartered in the city. To see some sights, click here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

May 24, 2009 - Verona, northern Italy

The weather seemed determined to vex us. After an extended period of cool, wet weather, it had now turned hot and humid - 95F temperatures are quite trying in a van that has no air-conditioning. We drove down to the Verona area and ended up at a rustic campsite some 10 miles west of town with little pitches scattered among grape vines on a working farm. There was a bike ride of a couple of miles to reach the nearest bus stop from where we caught the downtown bus. We left the bikes chained to a lamppost near the bus stop and everything worked out fine.

The old town of Verona is contained in a loop of the river Adige as it snakes westward toward the Gulf of Venice - a great natural defense for three-quarters of the perimeter. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Verona is home to about a quarter million Italians and has worked hard over the centuries to protect its history. Sadly, many of the earliest structures were razed during a massive earthquake in 1117 following which a large rebuilding effort in the Romanesque style was undertaken. Enjoyable city to visit with much to see.

Monday, November 16, 2009

May 23, 2009 - Bolzano, Italy

Until the end of World War I, Bolzano was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and 95% of the population were German speaking. It was annexed by Italy at the end of WWI and, in 1927, with a population of around 30,000, became a provincial capital.  
Benito Mussolini -  such a lovely man - subjected the city to intensive Italianization aiming to triple the population with immigrants from southern provinces to outnumber the indigenous German-speaking population. Fortunately for us, all street and road signs are still in both languages to this day, enabling us to expand our hard earned understanding of German signs with immediate translations to Italian. 
Bolzano is rated as one of the most desirable places to live in Italy. Parking in, or near town however, turned out to be difficult and we eventually found a spot close to a footpath along the River Isarco and were able to follow this into the city center. Enjoyed a pleasant and relaxing visit around the old town area. See sights here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

May 22, 2009 - Onward to Italy...

From Innsbruck, we headed south over the Brenner Pass into Italy. At 4,500 feet, the Brenner Pass is the lowest route across the Alps separating modern day Austria from northern Italy.
Reduced somewhat to a by-way, by the post WWII A13 Autobahn, the old pass is a fairly benign drive offering little excitement. We actually snuck over it illegally since Penny is tagged at 3850 Kg gross weight and the official limit currently is 3500.
The new highway, finished in the '60s, incorporates the Europabr├╝cke, an impressive piece of engineering with one section spanning an amazing 650 feet and the highest spans soaring 620 feet into the air - half the height of the Sears Tower.This bridge carries nearly 20 million trucks each year and, believe it or not ;-), the entire project is of great concern to the environmentalists.