Subject: Travel in Italy May / June 2002 (long)
Hi Ziners,

this was our first travel which we prepared with the help of the Travelzine group. We did the travel by car starting at our home in northwestern Germany. And it was our first travel with just the two of us! When we arrived in Svizzerland at the Passo di San Gottardo at 2109 m above sea level there was snow. We got out of our car and I said to Sonja, my wife: Remember this moment when we will be in the heat of southern Italy! We did remember this moment one week later in the Campagna Romana at 32 degrees Celsius!

Lago di Como We arrived at Hotel Belvedere in Bellagio on Sunday afternoon at about 3 PM. The weather was perfect. The Lago di Como and the Lago di Lecco displayed their most beautiful aspects. Our room at Hotel Belvedere was perfect, the view upon the Lecco side of the lake was gorgeous. At night we ate at the hotel. Next day it was raining cats and dogs. Lake Como showed new aspects to us! At night we had a GTG with Marco de Angeli and his sister Monica at Varenna. Marco had fixed everything at Ristorante Monte Codeno. Our GTG was a very nice personal experience and we had great fish food together: antipasti and risotto al pesce persico. Thanks to our wonderful new friends for meeting with us! Marco had several suggestions for our stay at the Amalfi coast which turned out to be very useful. On our way back to Bellagio we were stopped by Carabinieri: a few rocks had fallen down on the street due to the heavy rain and we had to continue very carefully. We decided to leave Bellagio using the mountain road the next day. This road permits safe driving and gave us two breathtaking views upon Lago di Como and later upon Lago di Lecco from several hundred meters above.

Siena We stayed at the Hotel Duomo, got a very good and quiet room and friendly service. Good recommendation by the group! We tried Trattoria La Torre and had great pasta and a huge Bistecca Fiorentina. We had fun because the waiter called some of his guests imbecille (idiots) because they ordered pasta together with gnocchi. As all of the guests were foreigners, I might have been the only one who knew that he was insulting his guests in Italian. Funny guy! Felice had told us about him before and called him a strange character. We tried two suggestions from Osterie d'Italia, both very near to our Hotel Duomo. Ristorante Castelvecchio served an interesting degustation menu, best of which was a risotto made with Vin santo and Provola cheese. Ristorante del Capitano had very nice antipasti (superb artichoke in olio) and very good green asparagi con caprino e pesto. We preferred Il Capitano to Castelvecchio. One afternoon we went for sidetrips to San Gimignano and Monteriggioni. Great hill towns. At Monteriggioni we had supper. Back to Siena. Sorry, Lesley, that we did not try Mugolone in via dei Pellegrini: I had forgotten to write down this recommendation and we will try it the next time! Visit the Pinacotheca in Siena with its superb paintings from the 13th and 14th century!

Orvieto On our way from Siena to CastelGandolfo we stopped at Orvieto. Great gothic dome and very beautiful and colorful facade. Tried Slow Food restaurant La volpe e l'uva which was very disappointing. They opened at 1 PM. Although we were the only guests they started service at 1:20 PM. Our order was executed wrongly. The food (crostini con fegatini, fette di melanzane) was not great. We paid and left. We continued our way to Castel Gandolfo. It was very hot, we were very exhausted by the car ride and we cancelled the GTG with Flavio. A burning car that caused a traffic jam on the motorway let us think of the danger of car driving. When we passed that car we felt the extreme heat irradiated by the burning fuel. In the Campagna Romana it was _very_ hot and we arrived at Castel Gandolfo completely worn out. This was not our day.

Castel Gandolfo We checked in at the beautiful Hotel Castelvecchio. Our room was facing the Lago di Albano and displayed a terrific view upon the lake in a volcano crater. Debbie had written about this hotel last year and told the group, she would like to stay here when she would visit the Castelli Romani again. Everything in the hotel looked nice and they had done everything to make it appear like a noble palace. We went out a few steps to eat at La cacciatore, a restaurant suggested by the local newspaper dealer (I asked him: where would you go to eat tonight at Castel Gandolfo?). His suggestion was very good. We had mixed antipasti and abbacchio a scottadito, a special meal with lamb meat of the Lazio area. Food was good and prices were reasonable. At night problems at the hotel began. TV in room 116 didn't work. Until midnight a piano in the restaurant was playing. At 1:00 AM the motor of a something started, nobody knew what it was, but it was very loud, and we woke up. We were assigned another room. At 1:30 AM we had moved to room 106 which had no view upon the lake but had no motor noise. Running water was still very loud. Using the toilet water made big noise for minutes. That night was not better than our day had been! It's a pity that they forgot to add good sound insulation to this very beautiful hotel. The service was kind. Next morning we left for Ravello. Weather was perfect and on our way to the motorway we had breathtaking views on Rome while we were driving across the Castelli Romani. With a telescope we could have seen the cupolas of the Panteon, St. Peters, St. Andrea della Valle, St. Carlo ai Catinari, St. Carlo al Corso, St. Ivo della Sapienza, ... We took the motorway A30 from Caserta to Salerno and left at Pagani. Driving up the Lattari mountains revealed breathtaking views upon the Vesuvio, the Gulf of Naples and the cities around. A few minutes later we had crossed the Lattari mountains and had our first amazing view from the height upon the Mediterranean and Maiori.

Ravello We arrived at Ravello at 12 AM exactly. Lovely Theresa came to meet us and to show us our small but very beautiful apartment in Scala, 1 km from Ravello with views upon Ravello and the Mediterranean Sea. Scala is the village you see if you take the road up from the Amalfi coast to Ravello and drive through the dragon's valley. We planned to stay for a week and therefore we preferred (and generally prefer) an apartment to a hotel room. Service and support by Theresa and Dottoressa d'Amato from STUDIODAMA, the company which rents apartments in Ravello and surroundings, were very good. At Scala we had a great meal at the hotel/restaurant La Margherita on the other side of the street. Excellent Antipasto di Mare and brilliant Pasta marinara with _lots_ of Cozze, Vongole and Scampi. Being too lazy to prepare the breakfast ourselves we talked to the owner of La Margherita and went there every morning for our prima colazione. We had dinner at Cumpa' Cosimo in Ravello. That restaurant had been recommended earlier in this group. Food was not bad, but because of the poor service we didn't enjoy our meal very much. When we had already left the Amalfitan coast a few days later, we regretted that we didn't try a Pizzeria or Trattoria in Corbara, Pagani or Angri, three little, poor, non touristy villages on the way from Ravello to the motorway. I believe we would have found there good food and service at reasonable prices; we always had good experineces with simple Trattorias and Pizzerias where the locals eat. We will certainly try this option next time we get to the Naples area. We followed Marco's advice and visited Paestum (perfectly preserved greek temples from 500 before Christ), Herculaneum and Pompeii. As Marco had said, Herculaneum was more impressive than Pompeii because of the better state of preservation of the houses. From Scala it was an easy walk down to Ravello. Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo are _very_ nice and we went to the Belvedere of Villa Cimbrone a second time to enjoy the breathtaking view upon the sea and the Amalfi coast. We visited the other villages at the coast and Sorrento by car on late afternoon, so driving was easy. After a week we bought a few huge lemons, big like melons, and some very good limoncello (lemon liquor) to take them with us home, and left for Florence.

Florence At 4:00 PM we found our location at Piazza del Carmine by car easily thanks to our MS Autoroute software. Our home was a so called Casa religiosa, a place run by nuns who make a little money giving rooms for guests who come to Florence. On my first visit to Florence many years ago I had stayed in such a house and it had been OK. The Casa Santo Nome di Gesu is run like a hotel and had been recommended by a German travel magazine. It was interesting because of its relatively low price of 77 Euro per room and day for two persons. The beautiful old palazzo has a nice garden, a parking place for our car within the court and a beautiful staircase in the palazzo. I had booked a room with shower. What I had not supposed: our room was with a shower, but without a toilet! We had to use a toilet which was right next to our room together with other guests. I have never seen a room with a shower but without a toilet before. I learnt that it is really necessary to ask for every detail and let them confirm every detail when you are booking a room in such a location. Breakfast was good and the breakfast room was great. Everything was so nice, except that little detail... Next time we will choose a better place: thanks Cova and Felice for your recommendations of Hotel Perseo and Hotel Hermitage, we will try to get a room there on our next stay in Florence! I had bought a cheap map of Florence and marked all of the restaurants recommended by other Ziners and by the Osterie d'Italia book. After a first walk which took us to the musts in the center of the city (Florence is not that big) and where we had a glance at the most interesting restaurants around our place, we had an excellent dinner at Trattoria del Carmine, a small trattoria at the corner of our Piazza. The next day we tried Giglio Rosso for lunch, recommended by Ira. Food was very good, but during our lunch the Italian team lost against Croatia at the World Soccer Championship and we were sorry for the waiter. The next day, when we had done the essentila sightseeing, we decided to leave Florence earlier. After a few days of scirocco (unpleasant climate with hot and wet wind from southwest) and a lot of noise around Piazza del Carmine we preferred to head for our next place: Radegno in Alto Adige!

Radegno/Radein This little mountain village is situated in the German speaking part of Trentino/Alto Adige with beautiful views on the Dolomites of Brenta and the Adamello group. We arrived at Radein at 8:30 PM (and at a temperature of 8 degrees Celsius only). It is 25 kilometers away from the motorway and 1550 meters above sea level. This is a magic place in the loneliness of mountain meadows. The absolute opposite to a stay within a city like Florence. When we arrived, it was raining cats and dogs. We checked in and immediately enjoyed the warm chimney fire in the beautiful Stueb. Dinner had to be booked together with our room. This makes sense because in this loneliness there is no other place where you could eat. The dinner with five courses offered at Hotel Zirmerhof was excellent and they have a great wine list as well with the very best of Trentino/Alto Adige wines! At the end we were offered some of the excellent Zirmertorte, a tart made of nuts, the white of an egg, cinnamon, cherries and cream. We went to bed early and slept very well in our century old beds and enjoyed very much our modern bathroom _with_ toilet. Next morning we had the _best_ of all breakfasts and then left for our drive home.

Altogether we had a great time with a lot of WOWs: Lake Lugano on our way and Lake Como, Piazza del Campo in Siena, San Gimignano, the view upon the crater lake at Castel Gandolfo, the view upon the gulf of Naples from the Lattari mountains, the view upon Ravello and the Mediterranean from Scala, the view from the Belvedere in Villa Cimbrone in Ravello, the temples of Paestum, the houses of Herculaneum, the city of Pompeii, the traffic around Naples, the hilltown villages which we could see along the motorway A1 on our way from Naples to Florence, Piazza della Signoria and Piazza Duomo in Florence, the cantoria di Luca della Robbia in the Museo dell'opera del Duomo in Florence, the inside view of the dome and baptisterium in Florence, the clean and fresh air at Radegno...

Thanks to all of you who have contributed to this wonderful experience!

Best Regards, Johannes Haltern am See, Germany