A Travellerspoint blog

Epidaurus and Mycenae

sunny 36 °C
View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

Naflpio (my base for two nights) is a bit of a retreat for those Athenians who have money - and despite all reports, from what I have seen, there are plenty of them.

It's in a great position, the harbour front is pleasant and there are some lovely old, cobbled streets with well maintained 19th century buildings.

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My hotel (Amalia Nafplio)) is out of town but I wanted a bit of space, comfort and a pool. It ticks all of the boxes and the staff (becoming a recurring theme) could not be more helpful and friendly.

5 July up early to drive to Epidaurus. I have decided where possible to visit all of these archeological sites early in the morning. Firstly to avoid coach loads of tourists but also to avoid the hottest parts of the day (reserved for swimming, lazing, etc).

Main reason for visiting Epidauris is the stunning ancient theatre , built around 330–320 BC. This is still used today for the annual Athens Festival productions on summer evenings.

The theatre is just one component of what was one of the most important sanctuaries in the ancient world, dedicated to Asclepios (god of healing) and a site of pilgrimage for half a millennium, from the sixth century BC into Roman times. In addition to its medical activities, the sanctuary hosted a quadrennial festival, which followed the Isthmian Games.

However, Epidaurus’s ancient theatre is the primary sight. With its backdrop of rolling hills, this 14,000-seat semicircle merges perfectly into the landscape, so well, in fact, that it was rediscovered and unearthed only in the nineteenth century.
It was apparently constructed with mathematical precision and, as guides on the stage were constantly demonstrating, near-perfect natural acoustics –such that you can hear coins, or even matches, dropped in the circular orchestra from the highest of the 54 tiers of seats.

Next door to the theatre is the Asclepian Sanctuary which is as large a site as Olympia or Delphi and interesting as the ruins are all of buildings with identifiable functions: hospitals for the sick, dwellings for the priest-physicians, and hotels and amusements for the fashionable visitors to the spa.

I really enjoyed this visit. It's an incredible structure in the most perfect position and great that it's still used today

As I left the site, it was clear that the timing of my visit was spot on. The car park was now filling with coaches and they were starting to queue down the road. The Chinese really are getting out and about now they have a bit of cash.

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6 July off to Mycenae today.

Agamemnons citadel Mycenae is tucked away in the hills. It was discovered in 1874 by a German archeologist (Heinrich Schliemann) driven by his single-minded belief that there was a factual basis to Homer’s epics.

Schliemann’s finds of brilliantly crafted gold and sophisticated tomb architecture bore out the accuracy of Homer’s epithets of “well-built Mycenae, rich in gold”. I have to say that with the accompaniment of the sound of bells drifting down from goats grazing on the hillsides, strolling round the ramparts is evocative of earlier times (until you are attacked by a swarm of selfie sticks).

In the museum there is an account of the Mycenaean Murders which seems to have a bit of everything - quite juicy.

MYCENAEAN MURDERS

According to legend, the city of Mycenae was founded by Perseus, the slayer of Medusa the Gorgon, before it fell into the bloodied hands of the House of Atreus. Atreus , in an act of vengeance for his wife’s seduction by his brother Thyestes, murdered Thyestes’ sons, and fed them to their father. Not surprisingly, this incurred the wrath of the gods: Thyestes’ daughter, Pelopia, subsequently bore her father a son, Aegisthus, who later murdered Atreus and restored Thyestes to the throne. The next generation saw the gods’ curse fall upon Atreus’ son Agamemnon

On his return to Mycenae after commanding the Greek forces in the Trojan War –a role in which he had earlier consented to the sacrifice of his own daughter, Iphigeneia –he was killed in his bath by his wife Klytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus, who had also killed his father. The tragic cycle was completed by Agamemnon’s son, Orestes, who, egged on by his sister Elektra, took revenge by murdering his mother, Klytemnestra, and was pursued by the Furies until Athena finally lifted the curse on the dynasty.

Some story eh?

The Citadel of Mycenae is entered through the famous Lion Gate , whose huge sloping gateposts bolster walls dubbed “ Cyclopean ” by later Greeks, as they were deemed the only beings deemed capable of their construction. Above them, a graceful carved relief stands out in confident assertion: at its height, Mycenae led a confederation of Argolid towns (Tiryns, Árgos, Assine, Hermione –present-day Ermióni), dominated the Peloponnese and exerted influence throughout the Aegean.

Inside the citadel there are clearly discernible ruins of the royal palace. The royal tombs (tholos in Greek - meaning dome) were incredibly well preserved.

My visit here was not as enjoyable as I hoped as I got there a bit later than planned and the coaches had already started to arrive . It's impossible to focus on what you are looking at and reading about when hundreds of tourists are just snapping away and taking selfies to prove they have been there - box ticking.

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Posted by aireland 08:02 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Mystra

sunny 36 °C
View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

4 July

Mystra is apparently one of the most dramatic historic sites that the Peloponnese can offer –a glorious, airy place, hugging a very steep, 280m foothill of Taïyetos. Winding up the lushly vegetated hillside is a remarkably intact Byzantine town that once sheltered a population of some twenty thousand, and through which you can now wander. Snaking alleys lead through monumental gates, past medieval houses and palaces, and above all into the churches , several of which yield superb if faded frescoes. The overall effect is of straying into a massive unearthing of architecture, painting and sculpture –and into a different age.

Looked at the guidebook and maps the night before and thought (possibly foolishly) that I could walk it. The site of the Byzantine city comprises three main parts: the Káto Hóra (lower town), with the city’s most important churches; the Áno Hóra (upper town), grouped around the vast shell of a royal palace; and the kástro (castle). There are two entrances to the site, at the base of the lower town and up near the kástro; once inside, the site is well signposted.

It took me two hours to get to the top using the road, entered to view the Kastro first and then meandered back through each level taking my time (3 hours). Some incredibly well preserved buildings and the feeling of being in a complete town.

Left Mystra, knackered but quite smug after walking all the way up and down again. On now to Nafplio which I had chosen because it is well positioned to visit Epidaurus and Mycenae.

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Posted by aireland 02:30 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Olympia and on to Mystra

sunny 37 °C
View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

2 July. God it's bloody hot - temperature up a level from Italy.

Drive to Olympia introduced me to another variation in "how to drive on the continent"

First thing is the very strange speed limits. Driving at 100 kph then suddenly hit with a 50 kph speed limit. There is zero reason for this. The road is the same, we haven't entered a town, I can't see any school kids taking their lives in their hands dashing across the road. I am of course the only driver paying any attention to this new limit.

This is made more bizarre when in the middle of a town (30 kph limit), the limit changes to 90 kph. None of these limits seem to matter (except to the anally retentive Englishman sitting on top of his little red SEAT (it's too small to sit in it) as everyone Just drives as fast as they can regardless of limits.

Overtaking is also an experience or rather being overtaken. The driver behind just comes right up to your bumper (in fact close enough that you can discern the colour of their eyes) and the expectation is that you move over into the dirt track (quasi lane) to let them pass. It's quite unnerving to start with but you soon get used to it. Road rage doesn't seem to be an outcome - it's just the way they do things.

Arrived at hotel (Best Western, Hotel Europa) in Olympia around 6 pm. It's quite plush. Lovely pool in delightful gardens. Room is luxurious, staff are really attentive without being annoying. Seems like a real gem

They have a restaurant in the gardens overlooking the valley so I decide to eat there - it's quite popular, though unfortunately a large number of loud Americans with like-It is are in attendance. "We need to like order, what do you like want?" "I'd like like an omelette but with like egg whites only" - SERIOUSLY! Where is a shot gun when you need one.

Hilarious moment. I was waiting for my food to arrive when a couple of guys (60ish) sat behind me and it was clear from their accents they were from Lancashire. The waiter came over to take their order and also put some bread and a dish of tapenade on the table.

Lancs guy # 1 - "What's that?"
Waiter - "It's tapenade sir"
Lands guy #2 "what's tapenade?"
Waiter - "It's olive paste sir"

If you know Peter Kay, then this could have been lifted from one of his sketches (garlic bread). Imagine Lancashire accent

Lancs guy #1 - "OLIVE?" "PASTE?" " what's that all about?"
Lancs guy #2 - "did he say Olive Paste?
Lancs guy #1 - " he did"
Lancs guy #2 - "No, no, no son, we don't want any of that muck"

Lancs guy #1 - "we had steak and chips last night, we'll have the same again tonight and a bottle of of that Chablis (pronounced "ch" not "sh"). Oh and don't forget ketchup" and if course "make sure the steaks are well done"

After the waiter had gone they went on for quite a while about olive paste and the fact that they couldn't see the point in olives let alone making a bloody paste out of them. I was crying with laughter.

3rd July. Up early mainly because all the advice is to get to the Archeological sites as early as possible to avoid crowds and experience in relative cool temperature (35 degrees). Manager also gave me advice about my onward route to Mistras - a more scenic alternative than the standard one.

Spent about 3 hours walking through the Olympia site and then a couple of hours in the museum.

The site itself is picturesque, but the sheer quantity of ruined structures is incredible. The scale of the site complete with temples, gymnasium, stadium, quarters for the athletes and for the dignitaries does allow you to imagine what it was like in its heyday.

One interesting area is the council chamber , where before a great statue of Zeus the competitors took their oaths to observe the Olympian rules. These were not to be taken lightly: lining the way were bronze statues paid for with the fines exacted for foul play, bearing the name of the disgraced athlete, his father and city. There wouldn't be enough space for something like that nowadays.

The museum is also very interesting with a number of key artefacts. Most notably the head of Hera and the Hermes of Praxiteles , both dating from the fourth century BC.

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Left Olympia to get to Mistras. took the route advised by the hotel manager - remote and wild Langádha pass. The first bit (down to Kalamata was pretty non-descript but the second part which takes you over and through mountains with spectacular gorges is fantastic. Mo would have hated it.
The sign warning of rock falls weren't just for show as I did spend a good part of the journey navigating around rocks on the very narrow roads.

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Arrived in Mistras around 6 pm. Hotel (Byzantion) not up to the standard of the one in Olympia but dirt cheap and ok for one night.

Posted by aireland 01:43 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Getting to Greece

sunny 34 °C
View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

30 June. The start of two months on my own

The plan was to travel by train (about 11 hours) from Milan to Brindisi, stay over and get the ferry to Patras in Greece. I checked the status of the trains the night before and there was a lot of noise about industrial action, delays, cancellations etc so I decided I would just hire another car and drive to Brindisi. This was going to be a 10 plus hour drive but at least I would only be depending on Fiat (who despite my misgivings have served me well so far) and not the Italian Train network. It was a hard slog but I managed to stay awake and get to Brindisi at a reasonable time in the evening.

Stayed in a quite pleasant sc room for the night (B and B Mare Nostrum). Two brothers had a number of rooms around the town which they let out. They were really helpful and friendly and it was cheap. (£32)

1 July. Had to pass some time until the ferry at 8 pm so explored Brindisi. My guide books were quite dismissive of the place but I found it quite charming. They have developed the water front and renovated the old buildings so that it's a very pleasant place to wander around. Most famous landmarks are the two pillars marking the end of the Apian Way from Rome and a beautiful Cathedral. I had a really good seafood lunch (possibly a little too much wine) sitting right beside the ancient columns overlooking the harbour. (Piazetta Colonne Restorante)

The ferry terminal is out of the town and since it was not entirely obvious (from my paperwork and detailed searches on Google) how foot passengers get there I thought I'd better do some investigation. I thought I'd cracked it when I found a foot passenger terminal right in the town by the waterfront. I went into the office to enquire what time I needed to be there for the 8 pm ferry. A very helpful young woman told me that (despite all of the signs and posters indicating that I was in the the right place) the buses to the terminal don't go from there any more and I have to go to the railway station from where buses run every 30 minutes(15 and 45) to the ferry terminal.

Apparently it would be obvious where the buses go from when I got to the station. I didn't believe her (I'm really getting quite cynical) so thought I'd do a test run. I walked the 3 km to the station in 36 degrees., losing a stone in sweat and this without my luggage. There were lots of bus stops and lots of buses but having waited for 45 minutes I could not see any bus to the ferry terminal. I asked at the information office at the station - they knew nothing.

I walked back to see the young lady who had given me this sh*te information and she insisted that it was correct and unless I wanted to pay a taxi 30 euros to take me to the terminal, the buses (costing 1.50 euros) are running from the station. She is sitting in an office which is the information point at the foot passenger terminal which doesn't actually operate any more so why would I doubt her ????

I decided to pick up my luggage early, walk to the station and if the bus didn't show then shell out for a taxi. The walk to the station in the same heat but with luggage nearly gave me a seizure.

I stood around the front of the station from where all the buses appeared to arrive and depart hoping to see one for the ferry terminal. I waited 35 minutes and was about to hail a cab when this young bloke carrying two rucksacks ran past me swearing in English along the lines of "why the f*ck is there no sign for it?" Something told me he might be a fellow ferry traveler so I ran (well hobbled) after him across the bloody rail track down some stairs only to find a bus with "Ferry Terminal" displayed proudly on the front. Oh how we laughed !!!!

After a bus journey of about 20 minutes the young man (27) called Chris from London and I were then dumped in the middle of the port. We could see our ship in the distance but we had to check in at the Grimaldi Ferry Office and it was not obvious where that was. I asked someone who pointed towards a large building about 500 metres away which was right by the ship - seemed obvious really.

Off we trudged, sweating like Geordies in a spelling contest, only to be told that we had to go to another building which was past where we had started from and another 500 metres on from there. We went there and managed to check in but then had to go back to the original building to actually board the ship. I was ready to sign any sort of confession by this point but was saved by Chris emerging with two ice cold beers - people called Chris and beer are inextricably linked.

I had prebooked all of my ferries for the European trip (8 in total) and where they are long trips I had reserved a cabin - except this one as there were none available so I had booked a reclining Pullman seat in the Pullman lounge - numbered so it would be all mine for the 17 hour crossing.

I became slightly alarmed when I boarded and was told by the unsmiling Grimaldi steward that the seat numbers don't mean anything - "just sit where you can".

Chris and I found our way to the Pullman lounge and opened the door only to be confronted by what appeared to be a Gypsy camp. It was absolute chaos. The "very comfortable, well equipped" Pullman Lounge was packed with families including screaming kids and barking dogs. They seemed to have everything they owned with them. Some had spread on the floor and were spit roasting hedgehogs or some other small vermin and I swear a couple of the blokes were trying to sell the idea of tarmacking the deck to someone with a captains uniform on.

We managed to find a couple of seats together - important as we both felt that we may need to keep an eye out for each other and our luggage.

Once we departed, things got better - did they hell! At various points we were approached by some of the kids offering us "food" which we declined. An Aussie in front of us accepted some and then was berated by one big ugly bastard for not paying the kids - he paid.

It was visibly clear where the dogs were peeing and then obvious by the waft of "Eau de Sh*te" that they were not being taken on deck accompanied by owners with dainty little pooper-scoopers when more substantial relief was required.

Chris and I alternated visiting the deck to get fresh air and the cafe to get some food with one of always having "watch" on our stuff. We put up with it for about 7 hours and then both decided that even if the deck outside was a bit colder and damper it had to be preferable. No sooner had we picked up our bags than 2 adults and two kids (who looked like the products of cousins who had married) jumped into our seats. I don't think we were going to get those seats back somehow.

We docked at Igoumenitsa (the only stop on the way to Patras) after about 9 hours and all of a sudden the ship was quiet. All the gypsies got off taking all belongings and animals with them but leaving the Pullman Lounge looking like a bomb had hit it. As soon as we left Igoumenitsa an army of Grimaldi cleaners appeared and after about an hour the Pullman Lounge looked as I suspect it was intended to though the residual smell of disinfectant combined with dogsh*te and burnt hedgehog didn't actually leave my nose for a couple of days.

I asked one of the stewards who our fellow passengers had been. Apparently they are a strange mix of Italian/Albanian/Greeks who travel between all three countries working and living in various places along the way. So - gypos !

Managed to get some sleep for the remainder of the journey (though only in bursts as I was always slightly nervous that they may have left some of their offspring behind) and arrived in Patras at about 2 pm on 2 July.

About 30 minutes before docked, about 50, very fresh faced, clean people appeared on deck. We didn't recognise any of the faces and we realised that these were the people who had managed to book a cabin and been spared our experience. Lucky bastards.

The journey from Maggiore to Patras had taken about 55 hours and I think I had slept for about 14 of those - I was completely knackered

I said goodbye to Chris in Patras (he was going to visit mates in Athens), picked up my tiny hire car (see picture) and drove the 2 hours to Olympia - the start of my tour around the Peloponnese and the famous archeological sites.

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Posted by aireland 08:29 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Lago Maggiore

sunny 32 °C
View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

21 June - up reasonably early to pick up Mos sister and brother-in-law (Sheila and John) from Milan Airport - they are joining us for this part of the trip.

They have reasonably low expectations of this holiday based on the experience of their last holiday 2 years ago when they went to Las Vegas and were kicked out of Sheila's cousins house and dumped on the pavement in the searing heat of Las Vegas.

They have some story in which they are entirely blameless and it was all the fault of the mad cousin, her weirdo husband and a rabid hound but I have my doubts - I don't know what wild things they were doing but I have warned Sheila that I will have no qualms about evicting them from the apartment at the first sign of errant behaviour! I get a hint of what may have happened in Vegas later in the week during a wild game of scrabble!

We have a bit of a wander around Stresa (our base) just to get our bearings. It's a busy (but not frenetic) little place - some grand hotels and cutesy lanes mostly filled with restaurants and tourist shops - quite pleasant really

Since it's Sunday and therefore minimal opportunities to buy decent food for self catering, we eat out in a very nice restaurant (Rosa dei Venti) on the waterfront recommended by the apartment owner.

Its quite clear from what we have seen of Maggiore so far that the area is quite Mediterranean in atmosphere, with palms and oleanders lining the lakeside promenades and a peaceful, serene air, it's probably not somewhere for thrill-seekers (note, Sheila) but it is seductively relaxing. Orange blossom, vines, clear air and the verbena that flourishes on Maggiore’s shores - very attractive

The next days are a mixture of trips out to various places - highlights below.

Lake Maggiore Express. I had read about this in advance and we were all keen to go. It comprises three sectors, all of them great journeys in their own right: a fast train on the historic Simplon main line from Stresa to Domodossola; the stunning Centovalli narrow gauge railway from Domodosssola to Locarno in Switzerland; and finally a peaceful 3 hour boat trip down the length of Lake Maggiore back to Stresa - it's about 10 hours in total but worth every penny of the (cheap) 32 euros. You can do the trip the other way around too.

The scenery between Domodossola and Locarno is beautiful (see pics) and we had a really nice lunch on the old square in Locarno and then just chilled out on the boat trip back. It was very hot all day so Mo had Burka episodes on the boat and she has an ally in John who got sunburnt once 25 years ago so will not expose his lilly white skin to any sunshine. John does not don a Burka but it would be correct to say he is dressed in "sensible English attire" with minimal surface area of skin exposed to the sun. In fact he would be safe in a swarm of bees.

It was a perfect day.

Lake Orta.. The westernmost of the major Italian lakes, Lake Orta seems like a bit of an afterthought - a little croissant-shaped tarn that is closer to the Matterhorn than Milan. Perhaps that’s why it is relatively quiet compared to Stresa and to find it, you have to make a special journey; Orta is not somewhere you stumble across.

The main reason for coming here is Orta San Guilo - a medieval village on the shore of the the lake. It's largely unrenovated but very well kept. Lots of narrow, cobbled streets snaking between tall, pastel-washed palazzi with elaborate wrought-iron balconies. Life centres on the waterfront Piazza Motta , which looks directly across at the lakes other attraction–the Isola San Giulio . This wooded islet, 400m offshore, shelters a closed community of nuns, their convent built around a beautiful medieval church. The harmonious ensemble of town, piazza and island is pure Italian theatre, it's quite enchanting.

We wandered around the delightful streets and also took the boat over the the Isola - just managing to avoid a party of Chinese complete with gas masks or whatever it is they where over their nose and mouth. I' m a bit ignorant as to why they wear these when they are away from the pollution of their cities maybe they are being thoughful so as not to pass on bird flu or some other oriental speciality to us but when I see them I always mischievously want to sneeze very close to them just so that they can justify wearing the bloody things.

Lake Como. This warrants more that the day trip that we took but we wanted a flavour of it. The immediate impression (compared to serene Maggiore) is how busy it is. Lots of tourists crowding the many boats that run up and down the Lake. We managed to get onto a ferry going up the lake to Bellagio where (because of ferry schedules) we would only get about 30 mins before having to return. Once we arrived I actually managed to change us onto a fast service coming back which meant we had a couple of hours there.

The scenery as you cruise up the lake stopping at multiple little towns is spectacular bit it's difficult to get over the impression that it's all really busy and a bit frenetic.

Bellagio (the real one not the Las Vegas copy) has been called the most beautiful town in Italy and its not hard to see why. With a promenade planted with oleanders and lime trees, fin-de-siècle hotels painted shades of butterscotch, peach and cream, a spectacular mid-lake location and a crumbling core of stepped, cobbled alleyways, Bellagio appears to be the quintessential ItalIan Lakes town.

Looking north from Bellagio, the scenery appears to be even more dramatic but alas we had not time to explore.

We had a good wander around Bellagio in the mid day heat (Mo and John in Burka and Equivalent) and then found somewhere for a quick lunch before getting the (faster) ferry back to Como town. It was all a bit rushed really and I should have planned it better - checking out ferry times and getting there earlier. Well we got a taste and maybe it's one for the future.

Mottarone. Towering behind Stresa, separating Lake Maggiore from Lake Orta, is the Mottarone mountain. A cable car serves the mountain from CARCIANO , on the lakefront about 750m north of Stresa; it’s an epic twenty-minute ride, swinging high above the forested slopes, which delivers you to a point just below the summit, offering stupendous east-facing views across Maggiore. A chairlift (free with cable-car ticket) –or a ten-minute walk –covers the last bit to the very top, where 360-degree panoramas open up. Beside the midway cable-car stop is the Alpinia Botanic Garden with fountain, lake and lookout point. So said the guide book says.

In fact the cable car was under repair. Not just for a couple of days but A WHOLE YEAR. This meant we had to drive to the top including hairpin bends so there was a lot of grunting, sighing and attempts to press non-existent brake pedals from the seat next to me (guess who).

We stopped at the Botanical Gardens which really were very impressive. not manicured but attractive in a semi wild way with great views over Lake Maggiore. I'm sure they are really pleased with the authorities who decided to close the cable car for a year - it will decimate their business.

On to the peak which again offered great views but just felt a little abandoned. There was a strange cafe/restaurant at the top which although served very good coffee including Sheila's decaf which the Italians kept calling (correctly) "coffee without coffee" every time she asked for it (I don't understand the concept either - it's like alcohol free beer - WHY?)

This particular place had decided that because it's at the top of a mountain and in winter is a ski resort, it is perfectly reasonable to be playing Xmas songs over the sound system (Johnny Mathis - When a Child is Born) in June - bloody odd.

Borromeo Islands.. Probably Lake Maggiore’s leading attractions are three lush islands rising from the waters of the bay between Stresa and Pallanza. All three are often dubbed the ISOLE BORROMEO after the banking family which owns tow of them (banking family called Borromeo - you couldn't make it up!). They are Isola Bella, Isola Superiore (dei Pescatori) and Isola Madre.

Each island is markedly different. The most celebrated is Isola Bella , just offshore at Stresa and taken up by a Baroque palazzo and formal terraced gardens. Behind, in open water nearer to Pallanza, is the larger Isola Madre , occupied by a modest villa, with gardens that are wilder than its twin. A stone’s throw northwest of Isola Bella is the slender Isola Superiore , also known as Isola dei Pescatori –once the residence of fisherfolk and still a pleasant little nook, with its narrow lanes and old houses.

They are all really romantic places. The atmospheric journey by boat from Stresa, as the Baroque terraces of Isola Bella rise from the water, is pure fantasy brought to life. Views of the palazzo from different angles, as your boat circles to approach the porticoes and shuttered windows of Isola dei Pescatori, are delightful.

We did a tour of the islands with Sheila and John earlier in the week and then Mo and I went back to Isola Madre later in the week to visit the gardens and the Pallazo. This was partly because we wanted a more detailed look but also to have a little time on our own as the time was rapidly approaching when Mo would have to return to the UK for two months as not even the Burkha and a wardrobe would offer her sufficient protection from the South European heat in July and August.

The visit to Madre was a real pleasure - we spent 4 hours there without realising it. The gardens are a mixture of formal and informal with great views from all sides and the Pallazo was full of interesting artefacts and frescos. Mo and I both agreed that we could easily spend a week just floating between these three islands - really special.

Those are most of the highlights but I should mention our neighbours at the apartment - Gaetano and Gianni.

One of the things I have not mentioned on any of my blogs is that I have been trying to learn to play the guitar (one of the reasons for not flying anywhere on this trip is that I have a guitar with me and the airlines would just smash it). I tend to do a bit of practice most days and whilst doing it here, I heard someone else playing a guitar (far better than me). Anyway one morning after about three nights at the apartment, this guy approached me downstairs and in very broken English and lots of Italian suggested that we play together. My immediate response given how much I really am a total beginner was "no".

A few hours later I realised that this may have appeared very rude (it was not the intention) so I quickly used google translate to explain in Italian my lack of skills and therefore confidence and then managed to lean around our balcony to his, get his attention and show him the translated text on my iPad.
His reaction was just to ask us round for a drink. We had a fantastic evening with them (husband and wife, mid sixties) - Gaetano and John (who does play guitar) strumming away, Sheila and Mo screeching out some lyrics and me enjoying his whiskey. Through a combination of French, laughable Italian (on my part) and doing the English thing of speaking very slowly and loudly we managed to communicate. We had shared music tastes and I promised to copy some music for him - which I did when we repeated the evening a few nights later.

They were a lovely, friendly couple who made us very welcome in their home - I went back again on the last night in Stresa after Sheila, John and Mo had flown back to the UK and they gave me some gifts. We all promised to keep in touch and I know John has already sent Gaetano some CDs and I have sent them an email (google translate again). A nice memory to keep from Maggiore.

Sheila and John managed to avoid eviction from the apartment though there was a close moment. One evening, in a fit of devil may care spontaneity, Sheila suggested a game of Scrabble. Now I'm quite adventurous on holiday but this was quite a departure. John obviously felt he couldn't quite reach the required level of derring-do so it was just me, Mo and Sheila. If this is an example of the sort of behaviour they exhibited in Las Vegas then I can fully understand and empathise with the cousin who turfed them out. Too much excitement!

We had a great time with Sheila and John and hope they enjoyed their holiday

Lake Maggiore is a top spot. We will go back and I would certainly like to explore Como a bit more

Mo flew back with Sheila and John on 29 June. I had the last night at the apartment in the company of our lovely neighbours and on 30 departed for Southern Italy on way to Greece - more of that in next blogs

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Posted by aireland 05:54 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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