One of the best things about river cruising is that there is an excursion designed to fit every traveler. For the active traveler, there are biking and hiking tours. For the wine enthusiast there are tastings, and for the history lover, tours of churches and museums.
On our all included Crystal River Cruise tour of Krems, we choose a more leisurely approach.
Our excursions was a chocolate making demonstration, combined with a tasting, combined with a walking tour of town. The sampling was at Hagmann Cafe & Confectionery, where they have been making chocolate by hand since 1836.
Along with the chocolate tasting, the owner shared how the cocoa beans are roasted, processed, and then sweetened right there in the shop to produce their wonderful desserts.
A UNESCO world heritage site since 2000, the towns history dates back thousands of years, with the first city charter in 1305. The area is still known for its wine growing, specifically Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. After some leisurely exploring, we continued our cruise down the Danube.
BIG DAY !!! … one of the main reasons for joining this cruise … up early and a lengthy bus ride to the Normandy Beaches … we had a splendid female guide … extremely knowledgeable and ability to share/provoke emotions as we traced/visited the ferocious battles of D-Day 1944.
The thoughts, stories & emotions of each beach … Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno & Sword … will burn into your mind and heart.
Every American should visit this spot where phenomenal achievements were made and world history occurred in such a short time period … each person that visits the battle scenes and the massive grave sites must deal with the experience individually … emotions are personal as you see, touch and recreate in you mind the pride we have for those that gave all for our freedom … … if you have not visited Normandy, you should !!! and have this experience … you will understand!
The thoughts, stories & emotions of each beach … Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno & Sword … will burn into your mind and heart.
Exhausted, we returned to the riverboat for drinks & dinner with friends (old & new) … then easy dancing to our boat’s keyboard player/singer.AmaLegro remained overnight in Rouen.
Goal of the day … enjoy Varenna … a very picturesque fishing village almost directly across the Lake from Bellagio. There are many more boat departures from Bellagio than Lezzeno, so each time we want a boat we make the drive to Bellagio … there is a problem though … parking is a challenge and yesterday we parked where we should have paid … didn’t know … came back to find a parking ticket … took the ticket this morning to the post office to pay fine … $37.70 (education can be expensive !)
You’ll fall in love with Varenna … we guarantee it !!! … it’s a shame we cannot include pictures because we feel this is the prettiest, most romantic village we have seen on Lake Como. Walked the cobblestone passages throughout the village and up through the castle to main square & church … definitely ‘story-book’ … wonder why the village has not been a movie location ???
Appetite up, so a stop at an outdoor cafe sitting on a deck overlooking the Lake and watching a young Italian family (Mom, Pop, 2 daughters) playing along the lake edge and feeding ~20 wild ducks that stopped in for lunch … also, some small fishing boats tied up near by. The village beauty, the wine, the heavy lake fog, the kids playing, the chilly day, the still lake … get the picture … makes one not want to get up to head home ! … but, eventually, we did.
Time to pack for departure tomorrow morning … decided to keep it simple and go for dinner at the hotel restaurant … not the best decision as the meal did not meet our expectation.
Getting out of the Hotel’s tiny private parking garage was an adventure … made for VERY small vehicles … one of the maids accompanied each driver to the garage … 2 blocks away … then she gave very careful hand signals to avoid fender damage! … felt proud when she hopped in the car and said something to the effect of “good job” !!!
Very heavy rain made driving difficult … some flooding of side roads … total distance ~150 miles … as we neared our Villa (~3 PM) rain stopped (good luck) … the Villa is part of a winery & cooking school … the plan was to meet the manager at 4 PM to check-in. So, since we had an hour we had lunch at a roadside cafe that was good.
An amazing event while at lunch … a foursome at the next table speaking English … Karen overheard one lady mention Duke … she struck up a conversation … the gal is a urologist … studied & took her internship at Duke … even more amazing, the second lady is the sister of a waitress employed at “Boondocks” restaurant (near our Ponce Inlet condo) and a marina where we kept our boat for several years … we’ve known the waitress for years … they also are acquainted with the Boondocks Dock Master (Jim Bowen) … then we learned one of the couples is from Columbia, SC and knows Mel’s former business partner … WOW, and here we meet at a small road house restaurant out away from any civilization !!! Amazing!
You never know what's in store when one takes these adventures!
So, the hour went quickly … then on to the Villa for check-in … Bill & Linda plus Sid & Cheryl (both couples from Jacksonville) … were to rendezvous with us around 4 PM at the Villa … waited in the Villa till their 7 PM arrival. Quite chilly outside so a fire in the fireplace was in order.
The Villa is set in the midst of a winery and cooking school … back a gravel road ~1 mile with a fantastic view in each direction …. take a close look at the pictures … again, our cameras do not do the views justice.
Decided to return to the Roadhouse for dinner because it is nearby.
Arezzo – third largest city in Tuscany … been here from the 7th. to the 4th. century BC … urban sprawl brings town census to 90K … the ‘old-town’ quite small and we arrived on a slow day.
Below is the main plaza of the Town … on your left is the Basilica di San Francesco … several scenes from Robert Benigni’s award-winning film Life is Beautiful were shot here ….
Goal for today … take the hydrofoil boat from Bellagio to Como.
Don’t know how fast the big passenger ferry was going across the water but it was fun scooting along leaving a high and huge wake behind us.
Como seemed much larger than expected … around 85,000 residents … much different than the 50+ villages that surround the Lake.
Upon arrival we went in search of a restaurant recommended by a friend in Northern Virginia … name – Gesumin (tiny, off the beaten path) … we eventually found it (helped by Google map) and we can say the following …. Karen: best ravioli ever (and she loves Italian) … Mel: never had better lasagne (thanks Bruce) !!!
Tummies full, soaked with white wine, and big smiles … boarded a hop-on-hop-off bus to tour Como. Learned a couple unexpected things … first, the Swiss border is very close to the city limits of Como (didn’t realize we were that far North) … second, their famous physicist/chemist Alessandero Volta invented the electric storage battery early 1800s. … now you know where the term “voltage” originated.
The trip from Sirimione to Lezzeno (lake Como) is approximately a 70 mile drive.
The shape of Lake Como is like an inverted “Y” … a natural lake with depths of approximately 1,300 ft., … a picture postcard place … Fifty plus villages line the shoreline … Bellagio is near the point of the “Y” and recognized as the ‘jewel’ village of the Lake community. You probably are aware of the Lake’s most famous resident … George Clooney.
Our lodging is in the village of Lezzeno … a small vacation village near the middle of the Lake … the room is right on the Lake edge overlooking an area used for water boarding behind a powerboat.
After check-in, a 10 minute drive to Bellagio … didn’t see a casino but quickly understood why the hotel/casino in Las Vegas is named the same !!! One wants to stop at each of the very inviting sidewalk cafes to have a drink and absorb the place … then one feels the call of the shops that line the long, wide cobblestone stairs. Karen found the shop recommended by a friend from California … sellin silk and silk/cashmere scarves made locally. Silk is made several places around Lake Como … could have spent lots of money here she but bought only one!
The afternoon slipped by so quickly and we returned to our Lezzeno hotel for dinner at their water front restaurant. Here, we met an interesting/fun couple from Windsor, Canada … Pat & Cam (60s) … she was office manager of the local horse race track (trotters) … he is retired … 20 years as CFO for Windsor hospital … they are ‘Snow Birds’ … own a condo in Ft. Myers … lot’s to chat about!
Bill, Linda, Sid & Cheryl left the Villa early for drive to Florence … we relaxed and drove to Volterra ~1 hr.
Both of us were born and grew up in farming areas/communities … we love the beauty of the Tuscany highly manicured vineyards and farmland … as we drive along soaking it in and an occasional photo stop, we are ‘touched’ and so thankful for the opportunity to visit this land.
Volterra seems oblivious to the benefits of tourism … talk is the Town has a feisty resistance to all change … story is during a recent Town meeting a local is recorded as complaining about running an Internet cable to Town … “The Etruscans didn’t need it … why do we?” (sound familiar?)
We enjoyed three things about Volterra … the beautiful drive …. the panoramic view from high at the edge of the Town wall … and, the availability of spectacular Alabaster … huge mines nearby.
A pretty day and fulfilling adventure.
Sunday … an easy day … slept in … got moving around noon … short drive (~30 min.) to town of Greve …. few shops open … grocery stores limited to small markets. The town is surrounded by huge wall, in excellent condition … quite striking as one enters the main plaza (Piazza Matteotti).
Greve – Locals say if there is a capitol of Chianti, it’s Greve… two famous residents … Americo Vespucci (named America) and Giovanni da Verrazano (discoverer of New York harbor, circa 1527).
Mischief … lunch outdoors on the main plaza coupled with some good wine (some Chianti) lead to close up visit to a large male statue.
Also on the plaza … the Greve Vespa Motor Scooter Club organizing for a Sunday afternoon ride … 50 or more scooters … lead by a 3-wheeler vehicle flying the Club’s colors.
Nice Italian breakfast at the Hotel … plan for the day => catch a hop-on-off bus and see/learn more about Verona.
Stepped out on the plaza and behold there are police, and politicians everywhere … a large part of the plaza was cordoned off to make way for two groups of police (say ~50 in one group and ~25 in another) … all dressed in their ‘blues’ … politicians being escorted via red carpet to the huge viewing stand (set up over night) … elementary school children (~25) waving flags (probably flag of Verona … not Italy) … a single bugle sergeant … police cars & motorcycles neatly aligned on the plaza grounds (~20) … a master-of-ceremonies with a ton of medals … and a moderate crowd of civilians.
Soon the activities began and we think it is the annual awards ceremony to recognize valor, service & promotions (we’re pretty sure). Anyhow, we watched the event until it’s conclusion … in all, about an hour.
Found our way to the hop-on-hop-off bus stop … two routes, 1 hour each. As you leave the plaza the wall around the city still standing and quite impressive … the story of this 2,000 year old city was told and places of interest identified.
Of course the most interesting to us is Giulietta home … buy a ticket to enter … inspect her home and visit the famous balcony where she called out for Romeo … so Karen went out on the balcony whilst Mel stood below with camera … NO singing !!! … however, in the garden where Mel stood, also stands a bronze statue of Giulietta … and it is said if one rubs her breasts then they shall be blessed with good luck … so, Mel gave it a try !!!
As we returned to the Plaza we heard the sounds of ‘tear-down’ the facilities for the opera series … coming from The Arena … so, we returned to see the huge scaffolding (curtains removed) and sound technology used last evening … what a huge job to remove all this and ready for the winter season … large crew removing & labeling every single piece to prepare for the 2014 opera series.
Yes, this day had a lot of nice ‘surprise’ built in … we, being all caught up in the Romeo & Giulietta opera, really enjoyed Verona!