The Good's Trip to Europe

July 18, 2005 - July 31, 2005

Chris had to go to Trieste, Italy on business for a few days and we decided to extend the trip to two weeks to visit Italy and France.  We traveled in style across the Atlantic on this trip.  Chris' company pays for full-fare, business class tickets on international flights.  Tami found a travel club that provides a second business class ticket for a spouse for the cost of the taxes and fees only, and the rest of the ticket is free.  We used that travel club and Tami managed to fly business class round trip from Washington Dulles to Italy for only $174.  Business class is just a small step down from first class, and is SO much more comfortable than coach, it is hard to go back.

Monday, July 18

Tami had driven with the kids over to her parents in West Virginia on Saturday, 16 July.  She flew into Dulles on Monday afternoon from Charleston and Chris met her there.  After repacking some luggage, checking in for the international flight, and parking the car in long-term parking, we headed for the gate.  Chris met up with the three other people from his company who were going on this trip and we boarded the plane for the 7 hour flight to Munich (Muchen), Germany.  Did we mention that business class is nice?  It is.

Tuesday, July 19

We transferred in Munich from United to Air Dolomite, a regional carrier in Italy. The flight to Trieste lasted about an hour.  Once at the Trieste airport, the entire party took a taxi to the company being visited, right on the airport, and Tami took a taxi from there to the hotel that had been arranged for us.  Chris stayed with everyone at the company and worked until later that day. Tami rested at the hotel in Gradisca, and once work was done, everyone came to the hotel.   Our Italian hosts were great and took everyone out for dinner to the most picturesque Italian villa restaurant you could imagine.  It was definitely not for tourists as we could never find it again and there was very little, if any, advertising.  The villa was tucked away in trees,  next to an old small museum somewhere north of where we were staying.  When we arrived, we all remarked that it was the ideal of what you would think of when dining at a villa in Italy.  It was the most perfect meal during our entire trip, for both food and atmosphere.

Wednesday, July 20

Trieste Harbor

Chris continued work this day and Tami took the train into Trieste, which was about 30 minutes away. She took this panorama of Trieste harbor to make Chris happy.  Once work was done on Wednesay, and Tami had come back to the hotel from Trieste, the five of us had dinner at the hotel restaurant, where the food was excellent.   The other three people from work were flying home in the morning and we began our vacation.

Thursday, July 21

We got up, had breakfast at the hotel, and checked out.   Because we were leaving Trieste one day early (work was originally projected to take Thursday also), Tami had to make quick reservations for Thursday night in Venice.  We took a taxi with all our luggage to the train station which was about 1/2 mile away.   It was a small station with no attendants, so we bought train tickets to Udine via a machine.  Once we reached Udine, about 30 miles north of where we started, we bought tickets to Venice.  Udine is a major station with lots of services.

Northern Italy   Northern Italy

Here are a few shots from northern Italy as we rode the train from Gradisca to Udine to Venice.
Trieste (Gradisca) ( 19 - 21 Jul )
Train from Gradisca --> Udine --> Venice ( 21 -23 Jul )
Train from Venice --> Bolonga --> Florence ( 23 - 24 Jul )
Train from Florence --> A: Rome ( 24 - 26 Jul ) 
Drive from B: Orbatello  --> C: Saturnia  -->  D: Back on the autostrada  --> E: Florence --> F: Pisa ( 27 Jul ) 
Drive from F: Pisa  (through La Spezia and Cinque Terra) --> G: Genoa -->  H: Nice / Monaco ( 28 - 30 Jul )
Drive from H: Nice --> I: to St Etienne de Tinee -->  J: Barcelonnetta --> K: Back on the autostrada --> L: Turin ( 31 Jul )

Once we arrived in Venice, it was only a 2 minute walk from the train station to our hotel.   The rooms available were either smoking or very musty.  This is where we started to have problems with smoking in Europe.  EVERY SINGLE FREAKIN' person in Italy smokes.  They smoke A LOT.  ALL THE TIME.  You can't go 10 feet without getting smoke blown in your face.  Unless the hotels have specifically set aside non-smoking rooms (and most have not yet), everything smells like smoke.  Thank you so much American tobacco companies for polluting the minds of Europeans into thinking its cool to smoke. Italy recently passed laws making it illegal to smoke inside, but the hotel rooms still smell like smoke.  After checking out several rooms, we finally settled on the least objectionable room.  It was very musty, but that was marginally better than the smoke filled rooms where our eyes watered as soon as the door was opened.

After resting a bit, we headed out to walk around Venice.  We crossed over the first bridge across the Grand Canal and had a late lunch at a small cafe.  We then proceeded to our hotel where we had reservations the following night to make sure everything was OK.  It was good that we did that, because the intermediary reservation company which confirmed our reservations to Tami's travel agency had lied.  The hotel did not have availability.  The hotel hires this company to be the clearing house for reservations to travel agencies all over the world.  The hotel's clearing house is supposed to verify room availability before it sends on confirmation to the requesting travel agency. They did not do that correctly.  The receptionist at the hotel told us they were furious and stopping service with that company because the same thing was happening 4 or 5 times each week.  Fortunately, they had a cancellation and did manage to fit us in the following night.  They even had a room this same night, but we had already checked in at the other hotel and it was late in the afternoon by this time, so we just stayed where we were.

Venice Canals

Tami and Chris in Venice     Storm over Venice

We continued our walk through Venice and finally reached St. Mark's Square.  A thunderstorm moved in and we sat out the rain for about an hour before continuing to explore and finally returning to our hotel.

Friday, July 22

We got up and had breakfast at the hotel.  It's a European thing; there is breakfast at every hotel.  We checked out and took a water taxi with our luggage to the other hotel.  After getting checked in (no problems this day), we proceeded to explore Venice some more.  We took the water taxi all the way around Venice and finally arrived back at St Mark's Square again.  We explored the streets and canals and had lunch at a cafe.  We explored the north end of the island and took a water taxi around from the north end back to the train station.  As we passed down one canal, we saw a perfect place for dinner and walked to it after getting off the water taxi. The restaurant was right on one of the largest canals (not the Grand Canal) and was covered over with ivy and flowers growing on a mesh support over the outside eating area.   We came back to our hotel just as another thunderstorm was starting and stayed in for the night.  The hotel had a nice lounge overlooking the Grand Canal with Internet access, so Tami took advantage of that and contacted home and took care of some travel and financial stuff we needed to do.   Chris took some time exposures of the lightening across the Grand Canal before we headed for bed.  Our hotel was 100 yards from the Rialto Bridge, the most famous of the three bridges that cross the Grand Cana, built in 1591.

Here is Tami standing on the terrace of our hotel on the Grand Canal, and a night photo of the Rialto Bridge from the hotel terrace.

View from our hotel in Venice

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Saturday, July 23

We got up and had breakfast at the hotel.  We caught the water taxi to St Mark's Square and were headed for St Mark's Church, but the line was very long.   Instead we took the elevator to the top of the bell tower, the Campanile di San Marco.  It is over 300 feet tall and was rebuilt in 1912.  It had been standing for almost 1000 years and fell without any warning in 1905.  Below are the views from the tower looking west, north, east, and south.  It was mentioned in a guidebook that you can't see any canals from the tower; it is true.

View from tower looking west. View from tower looking north. View from tower looking east. View from tower looking south.

We then got back on the water taxi and went back to our hotel to check out.  We took the water taxi to the train station and bought tickets to Bolonga.  Once we arrived in Bolonga, we bought tickets to Florence and rode the train to there.  We called our hotel for directions and caught the correct bus for the hotel.  The bus driver and a lady on the bus, neither of which spoke English, were incredibly helpful.  We managed to get enough information across to them so they could understand where we wanted to go.  It was people like that who made the trip enjoyable. 

We checked into the hotel, got directions for the city, and headed back out to explore the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, and have dinner.  We had dinner at a small cafe on the opposite side of the Arno River and then took the bus back to the hotel.   Here is a photo of the Ponte Vecchio at night.  It was built in 1345 and was the only bridge in Florence to survive World War II.

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Sunday, July 24

Duomo in Florence
Duomo Palace, Florence

Arno River, Florence
Arno River, Ponte Vecchio on the right

We got up and had breakfast at the hotel. Are you seeing a pattern here for breakfasts?   We checked out and took a taxi (we had enough of buses by this time) to the train station, where we stored our bags and walked a short distance to the Duomo.  We had planned to tour the Uffizi Museum, but the line was very long (it snaked all the way around the square at the Uffizi) and did not move at all while we watched it for about 20 minutes.  By the way, Michelangelo's David is not in the Uffizi, it is in the Academia.  If you plan on going to the Uffizi, get reservations.  They have a direct entrance into the museum with no wait for people with reservations.

Trevi Fountain, Rome

  Spanish Steps   Tami and Chris at the Trevi Fountain

Tami and Chris in front of the Pantheon

We gave up and walked back to the train station, where we caught our train to Rome.  We were glad to be done with trains by this time, and would be leaving Rome by rental car.   We caught a taxi to our hotel; just a few minutes walk from the Vatican.   After checking in and getting settled, we headed back out and walked across the Tiber River to the Spanish Steps.

After climbing the Spanish Steps, we walked over to the Trevi Fountain and from there to the Pantheon.  The inside was closed by this time, so we proceeded on to the Piazza Navona and finally Pizzeria Da Buffeto.  It is rated as the number one pizza place in Rome, and it did not disappoint.  It looks like a dive, with everyone crowed together around small tables, but the atmosphere and food were excellent.  Chris' pizza was aptly called "Pizza Buffeto" and had proscuitto, artichokes, a few other things we still are not sure of, and a fried egg in the center. It was great.  Tami had a proscuitto pizza, which was great as well.   We then walked to St Peter's Square at the Vatican, took some night pictures, and finally headed back to the hotel for bed.

St Peters Square at night

Monday, July 25

We slept late and missed breakfast, but one of the waiters brought us some hot chocolate and croissants in the lounge.  They have excellent service in that hotel. 

Tami in front of the Spanish Steps Colliseum Tami and Chris in the Colliseum Tami outside the Colliseum

Chris in front of the Arch at the Colliseum  Tami in front of the Arch at the Colliseum

We walked by the Spanish Steps again and caught the metro (subway) to the Colliseum.  We toured the Colliseum, inside and out, and had lunch at a small cafe in the main square surrounding the Collisuem.  Don't do that.  Those cafes are only catering to tourists; the food was not very good and we paid more than we had the previous night at Pizzeria Da Buffeto.
Roman Forum from Palatine hill
Roman Forum from Palatine
Looking towards the Forum from the Colliseum
Roman Forum from Colliseum
Circus Maximus from Palatine hill
Circus Maximus from Palatine
Palatine Ruins
Palatine Ruins

Pantheon looking up to the Occulus
Inside the Pantheon
Pantheon and Pantheon Occulus

We then headed for the Roman Forum and Palatine hill, the site of the emporer's palaces.  From Palatine, you can see all of Rome, including incredible views of the Forum, Colliseum, and what is left of Circus Maximus, the chariot race arena.   After descending from Palatine and walking through the Forum, we headed for the Pantheon. 

From there we walked back to the hotel to cool off, and then went back out again for dinner at PizzaRe on the other side of the Tiber, near Piazza De Popolo.   After walking through Piazza de Popolo, we went back to the hotel and to sleep.

Tuesday, July 26

We checked out and stored our bags with the hotel before having breakfast at the hotel.   We walked to the Vatican along the Tiber and went on in to St Peter's Basilica.   After spending some time inside St Peter's, we descended to the tombs below the Vatican to see Pope John-Paul II's and St Peter's tombs.  We then took the elevator to the roof of St Peter's Basilica and walked around inside the base of the dome.   Chris climbed on up to the very peak of the dome and took lots of pictures.  We bought souvenirs and gifts for family at the gift shop on the roof of St Peter's Basilica, and mailed postcards from there as well.  If you get a chance, go the roof; there are no crowds and you feel removed from the hustle that is going on in St Peter's Square down below.  After descending back to the ground, we walked around to the Vatican Museum, which you enter to see the Sistine Chapel.  The entrance is quite a walk around on the north side of Vatican City. The Vatican Museum was packed and it felt like being a cow herded through the museum to finally reach the Sistine Chapel.  No pictures, no video, no talking PLEASE.  But it was pretty cool to be looking up at the incredible paintings on the ceiling done by Charlton Heston.  [In the movie "The Agony and the Ecstasy", Heston plays Michaelangelo while painting the Sistine Chapel.]  The path to and from the Sistine Chapel goes through the entire museum, so leave enough time aside to see everything.

St Peters Square Panorama
St Peter's Square; taken from the northern focus of the ellipse. This square can hold 400,000 people.

St Peters Square from Basilica entrance
St Peter's Square from the Basilica entrance.

St Peters Basilica Dome from the base of the dome
St Peter's Basilica Dome from the base of dome.

Panorama of Rome from the top of St Peters Basilica dome

St Peters Square from top of the dome
Rome and St Peter's Square from the top of the dome.

Current dome steps     Original dome steps
Steps leading up through dome wall to top of dome.
Current: Left      Original: Right

Vatican Museum Courtyard
Vatican Museum Courtyard
Vatican Museum
One of the rooms in the Vatican Museum.

From the Vatican, we walked to our rental car location and picked up our rental car. It was a Ford Fiesta 2 liter diesel, tiny by American standards but average for Europe. We drove back to our hotel and retrieved our luggage before heading out of town towards the water and then north along the coast.

Driving through Italy became an adventure.  There are no car lanes in the cities (even if marked, the marks are ignored), stop lights and signs are really just suggestions, and the speed limits are universally ignored.  More than once, we got honked at if stopped at a red light or stop sign with no cross traffic. Car rental in Italy costs two to three times as much as a comparable car in the US because of the large insurance fees that must be paid.  Also, fuel and travel costs are much more. Diesel costs about 1.09 Euro per liter, which translates to about $5 per gallon.  Regular gas costs a bit more.  Tolls on the "Interstates" or autostradas are expensive; about 20 Euro for 200 km, depending on the section driven.  The autostrada is similar to a US Interstate, with limited access, but there is no shoulder width beyond the two lanes, or three lanes in some areas.  The drivers are excellent though - NO ONE goes into the left lane except to pass and the traffic moves at a very high rate through all sections.  These limited access roads are incredible in the north section of the country.  The roads go directly from point A to point B.  If that means tunnels or bridges, they are built.

Tuscany
Tuscany on the way to the hot springs ->
Hot springs Hot springs Hot springs

We drove north along the coast towards Tuscany and then headed back up into the hills of Tuscany to the east of the water.  It was there that we found the most unique spot on the entire trip.  Tami found an entry in a travel guide for hot springs near a little town called Saturnia. You have to drive through Tuscany for about 60 km from the coast and make several leaps of faith you are actually headed for something interesting, but the roads are very well marked and getting lost was never really an issue.  The hot springs are fantastic!  http://www.slowtrav.com/italy/tuscany/hot_springs.htm You could never believe they are not man-made, but they are natural with the most incredible terraces flowing down the hillsides.  There are spas for some sections of the hot springs, but the main section of hot springs is free.  Just pull off into the parking area and walk into the water.

We then drove northwest through the countryside towards the autostrada, and took it towards Florence and then towards Pisa, and finally arrived near Pisa around 4 AM.  It had been a very long day. Next time we will be spending at least one night in Saturnia.

Wednesday, July 27

Tami and Chris in Pisa Pisa Campo dei Miracoli Pisa from the top of the tower

Chris holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Chris on top of the tower

Cathedral in Pisa

 

 

After sleeping late at a hotel outside of Pisa, we headed for the town center.   There is not much to see in Pisa besides the Leaning Tower and main square, so we did not plan on spending much time there and did not.

The tower was closed from 1990 to 2001 but they have managed to bring it back to its historical tilt and stabilize it.  They used long boring screws to remove dirt and sand from beneath the base of the high side of the tower.  It brought the tilt back to where it should be. For a long time they had steel and wire bracing on the tower, but that is all gone now.

The tower climb costs 15 Euros and they sell out several hours in advance, especially if you want to get more than one ticket. We arrived at the tower at about 1 PM, and all the tours were sold out through 4 PM. Because Tami did not want to climb the tower, Chris chanced it and waited in line to see if any single tickets were available earlier. The ticket lady took pity on Chris and sold him a single ticket where she marked out the time and wrote in the next tour. He managed to go directly to the tour.

The tower tour is bit unorganized, at best. After buying your ticket you are specifically told to be at a particular place on time and the guide will escort you over to the tower for the climb. A small gaggle of people were waiting where Chris had been told to be, the tour lady came out (Chris had no idea at this time whether she was actually the tour lady), said a few words in a very low voice to one or two people and proceeded to walk to the tower with no indication of what we were supposed to do. Six of us followed her to the tower, where a big line of about 35 people was waiting. They were all on the same tour, but had obviously decided to bypass the meeting place and wait right there. It worked out and we all made it into the tower though. Chris just wasn't quite sure where he was supposed to be for a while.  The climb to the top is interesting; you can feel the tilt the whole time you are climbing.  You lean first against one wall of the circular stairway and then against the other wall as you go around and around.  At the top level, you climb a tiny circular stairway to the very top, the bell tower belfry.

We then both toured the cathedral next to the tower in the Campo dei Miracoli, or field of miracles. As we drove out of town, we succumbed to the call of American food and ate at a McDonalds not three minutes drive from the tower.

La Spezia
La Spezia
La Spezia
La Spezia
We continued on north and then west, finally reaching La Spezia, the gateway to Cinque Terre.  Cinque Terre means "five cities" and those cities are old fishing towns along the Mediterranean Sea at the bases of immense cliffs that run up 2000 feet and more.  The road is beautiful, twisty, winding, and has drop-offs that go a thousand feet down to the water or the rocks below at every nail-biting turn.  As you proceed north through Cinque Terre, the road becomes narrower and less traveled.  Just when you think it can't get any more narrow, a sign will pop up telling you to be careful because the road gets narrow ahead.  The views are fantastic the whole way. 

Cinque Terra   Cinque Terra

We eventually drove all the way from the south to the north ends of Cinque Terre and rejoined the autostrada for our drive to Nice, France.  It was at this point that the autostrada became a huge timesaver. This section from Cinque Terrae/ Pisa to the Italian border near Monaco is the most unique road we have ever seen.  The tunnels and bridges are continuous and go on for over 100 km.  The road never goes around a mountain when it can go through it, which means it never goes around a mountain.  The road never descends into a valley when a bridge can be built across the valley, which means there is a bridge across EVERY single valley.  You drive through mountains and come out onto bridges spanning valleys with towns and cities all around and below you, and then plunge into the next mountain with buildings clinging to the mountains above you as you enter the next tunnel.

We eventually crossed into France and drove into Nice around 12:30.  After much trouble with our hotel, and its sister hotel, we finally made it to bed at 4 AM.  We arrived at the hotel at 1 AM and were immediately given keys to our room.  We went up to our room to find that there was no power.  We went through every single available room in the hotel and they were all either too small, smelled horribly of smoke, or both.   Our first room was large and had no smoke smell, so we were reluctant to give up on that room.  We were offered a comparable room at the hotel's sister hotel about 1 km away, so we lugged our stuff back out to the car and drove over there.  No luck - the four rooms available there were worse.  We went back to our first hotel and took the room with no power, hoping it was something as simple as a breaker.  It was and we eventually had power the next day.  The upside to all that trouble is that they did not charge us for that first night.  Nice was our base for the next three days and it felt good to have one hotel to come to for three days

Tami and Chris overlooking Cinque Terra

Cinque Terra

Cinque Terra

Cinque Terra

 

Thursday, July 28

We did sleep late again and when we got up, we had laundry to do.  We were directed to a laundry right down the street and spent a few hours getting our clothes clean.  Tami stayed with the laundry and read for a bit, while Chris headed for the beach for about 45 minutes.  Chris came back and we finished and folded all the laundry before returning to our hotel to find that power had been restored.  We then drove to Antibes and picked up one of Tami's friends from law school, Karen.  Karen was spending the summer in France learning French and her school was in Antibes. We proceeded to Cannes where we all had dinner at a cafe in front of the Carlton.  After walking along the beach in Cannes, we headed back to Antibes and dropped Karen off at her apartment; she had school the next morning and could not get away.  We drove back to the hotel and went to bed.

Beach at Nice
Nice
Tami and Karen in front of the Carlton in Cannes
Tami and Karen in front of the
Carlton in Cannes
Cannes at night
Cannes

Friday, July 29

View from our table at lunch in Eze

Tami in Eze

 

We woke up and drove through Nice towards the Grande Corniche, one of the roads on the cliffs east of Nice going towards Monaco.   The Grande Corniche is the highest road and runs along the mountain tops. As we approached Eze (pronounced Ez), we descended to the Moyenne Corniche, or middle level, and toured a perfume factory in Eze, before walking around the old town of Eze itself.  Tami had lunch with her mom in Eze many years before and wanted to recreate the experience with Chris.  The Chateau Eza has views looking down to the water from all its tables and that is where we ate.   After climbing to the very top of Eze, where there are gardens, we continued to drive on and climbed back to the Grande Corniche, before descending again to drive into Monte Carlo.

View from the gardens on top of Eze
Gardens (Jardins) on the top of Eze.

View from the gardens on top of Eze
View from the top of Eze.
View from the gardens on top of Eze
View from the top of Eze.

We passed the spot on the Grande Corniche where Princess Grace died in a car crash (it is not marked) and found our way to the parking garage at a shopping area about a block from the Monte Carlo Casino.  Tami knew her way around Monte Carlo well and we went to the hotel she had stayed at with her mom.  We walked around the hotel and then outside facing the water and harbor, before finding the bus route that would take us to the palace on the Monaco "rocher" or rock.  We climbed to the palace square and toured the palace from where the Grimaldis have ruled Monaco for over 700 years.

Tami in Monte Carlo
Tami in front of the Monaco Rock.
First Grimaldi
First Grimaldi.
Monte Carlo Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo Monte Carlo Palace Courtyard
Palace Courtyard
Monte Carlo Monte Carlo
We then climbed down off the rock and took the bus back to the Casino area.  There is a cafe in the main circle in front of the Monte Carlo Casino and Hotel de Paris, and we managed to grab a table at the very front of this cafe.  We were 10 feet from the red carpet and everyone passes by that spot going through the square.  For over two hours we held onto that table and saw many interesting things, but no real celebrities, except for one.   We still don't know what it was all about, but just a few minutes after we sat down, people started gathering in front of the Casino as if someone of importance would be arriving or leaving.  The Star Wars Stormtrooper march came on over the loudspeakers and Darth Vader, followed by two stormtroopers, exited the Casino and slowly walked the red carpet directly in front of us to the stores and theater on our right.  Hundreds of people crowded around for pictures and this slow walk of 100 meters took 20 minutes while Darth posed and pointed. We kept expecting George Lucas to appear, but Darth was the attraction.  Darth disappeared for about an hour and a half, and then retraced his steps back to the Monte Carlo Casino.  As soon as he was inside, the red carpet was taken up and the loudspeakers, which had been lining the red carpet, were removed.

Monte Carlo Casino

Darth Vader in Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo Casino

As we sat there, many expensive cars would come around the circle and either pick up or drop people off at the Casino.  One car kept coming around the circle every few minutes. A red Ferrari convertible came back around the circle every 5 to 10 minutes.   It had the same driver with a different passenger every time.  The driver must have been selling short rides in the car; we realized it and so did people around us who were remarking, "He's back with another one."  You can see the red Ferrari in this panorama from our table. While sitting at this table, we ate ice cream, and drank one water and one Coke each. Total bill: 41 Euros, or about $50.  You don't do that kind of thing every day though, so we splurged. 
We then drove back to Nice along the Corniche Inferieure, or lowest road down close to the water. The photo to the right was taken looking up at Eze as we drove back to Nice from Monaco that night.  Eze is perched on top of large center rock.

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After arriving at our hotel room, we found that the power was out again.  Chris went down to the main desk and they went upstairs to fix it again.  We watched TV for bit and in the middle of a show, all the power went out again.  This was getting a bit annoying.  By this time, the only person at the desk was the night reception clerk, a young man named Christoph, who had been a great help the night we checked in.  We had figured out where the breaker was by this time, so we asked him to flip it, which he did and we had power again.  Chris went out to get some takeout food and we ate in the room that night.

Saturday, July 30

Route Through The Alps

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At checkout they were still trying to charge us 50% for the first night. Nope. Not gonna happen. We complained a little and had the first night completely removed from our bill.  It didn't take much complaining - they must have been expecting it.   We drove west and north out of town into the Alps along the Tinee River. Follow the yellow trace on the map to the left.  At the little town of St Etienne de Tinee we ate lunch at a cafe before continuing on into the mountains. On the right is a photo taken just after leaving St Etienne de Tinee, headed further up into the Alps.  

Alps

 

The road climbed higher and higher with shear drop-offs and hairpin turns before finally topping at 2802 meters, or 9192 feet, at Col du Bonnette, the highest pass in the Europe.  From the pass, we drove the Circuit de la Bonnette, about a two mile one-way road that climbs up almost to the peak of Cime de la Bonnette at 2862 meters. 

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We made the last foot climb of about 200 feet to the peak at 9389 feet.  The panorama to the right was stitched together from 19 photos taken at the summit. The original panorama at 200 dpi is almost 12000 pixels wide and 2 GB.  The reduced image here is 4676 pixels wide and only 450KB.

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At the peak of the road, two street lugers were unpacking their gear from a car and were getting ready to descend the mountain. It was a father and son on the luges, with the mother driving the car. These roads have hairpin turns with no guardrails and cliffs going down hundreds of feet at every switchback.  They zipped down the mountain far ahead of us and were out of site before we had gone very far at all.  As we descended off the mountain, we passed a perfectly mirrored lake that reflected the mountains and sky beautifully.

We drove down to Jausiers and tried to determine the best way to get to Turin (Torino), Italy.  Unfortunately we did not have a detailed map of that section of France we were driving into and were not sure if the autostrada could be reached, or if we would be going over a similar pass in the dark.  We drove west into Barcelonnette and found a gas station with maps.  The station was closed, but the owner had just come back from fixing a car and we were lucky to meet up with him.  He did not understand a word of English and our French was terrible, but he sold us a map and confirmed the directions we needed to take.   Incidentally, the sky was full of paragliders over Barcelonnette; there must have been some kind of festival.  We had to return to Jausiers (10 km) and continue on to Col de Vars, the pass to Vars.  From Vars, a ski resort, the roads slowly got wider. We had to climb over several more passes, now driving in the dark, before finally reaching Italy. Just a few miles into Italy, we found the autostrada and quickly made it into Turin.

Turin will be hosting the Winter Olympic in February 2006.  They have got a lot of work to do.  The city is a mess.  After calling the hotel for directions and making some lucky guesses about road choices, we checked in about 1 AM to the nicest hotel we had stayed at on the entire trip.  The only problem was that we had to leave early the next morning to catch our flight home, and did not get much chance to enjoy the hotel.

Sunday, July 31

This day we had our last breakfast at a hotel before checking out.  We got directions to the airport on the north side of town and drove there.  We arrived to check in for our 11 AM flight at 9:15 AM, but fortunately Europe does not require the hard two hour rule for international flights that the US requires.  After checking our luggage, Chris went to drop off the rental car. 

They do things differently in Turin for drop-off.  The drop-off is not labeled from the road - you have to make a few guesses.  Once you are in the Hertz parking area in the bottom floor of the parking garage, down the middle row at the far end is a small sign that says "Park here and lock car. Bring keys to desk inside." OK.   Chris did that and brought the keys in.  This was a rental from Hertz, so we expected Hertz efficiency.  Nope.  The Hertz rep at Turin refused to give any receipt for undamaged car with full tank of gas.  She wrote the time of the return on the rental ticket and that was it.  Chris asked to go out and review the car for damages and the full tank of gas we had just put into the car.  The reply was "We don't do that here. We will send you bill via post."  Chris asked again, "Let's go check out the car together.  It has no damage and I just filled the tank."  being very proud of the fact that he had managed to drive the car for almost 2000 km through Italy and France with no damage, and wanted to make sure we would not be getting a surprise in the mail.  Same reply: "We don't do that here."

We boarded our flight for the one hour ride to Frankfurt, Germany.  We always had ideas of German efficiency, expecting that to carry through into airport operations.   It did not seem that way at the Frankfurt Airport, one of the main hubs.  We had already gone through security in Turin, but the mobile transporter from the plane dropped us off at the main terminal outside of the security line.  We had to go through immigration and customs to leave the country at this point, and then through security again.  They do not have standard metal detectors in Frankfurt, but rather each person is searched via handheld metal detectors and a very intrusive physical pat down.  No body part goes unchecked. Everywhere. Enough said.

The flight back home to Dulles was on Luthansa, and the seats were not quite as comfortable as on the United flight from Dulles to Germany.  Service was excellent though and the trip was uneventful.  After arriving in Washington, we went through immigration, retrieved our luggage, and cleared customs.  After locating our car; "Where did I park two weeks ago?", we drove home.

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