|The distant hills of Lago di Garda from Peschiera.|
Lago di Guarda
We spent three days at a town on the southern-most edge of the lake, Peschiera del Garda. Any thoughts of a relaxed time in a quiet fishing village were quickly dashed by the crowds of visitors to the many cafes and restaurants and shops in the few blocks of this tiny town. Still, we had a great view out our window, and we loved to watch how the colors on the lake changed throughout the day.
|View from our window.|
We devoted one day to exploring Verona. The massed crowds marked Juliet’s Balcony, a popular spot for an imaginary place, where Shakespeare’s Juliet waited for her Romeo.
|Juliet's famous balcony in Verona.|
|The very packed main square of Verona.|
The walk through Verona was pleasant; sadly, by the time we got the train back to Peschiera the huge market there was just closing. We were sorry to miss it, but the next day the trains to Verona were on strike. (The railroad workers were protesting mandatory vaccinations; so it’s not just the US!)
|The town of Peschiera di Garda.|
We were up early the next morning to take the ferry to Garda, a town half-way up the lake. We had second breakfast and another pleasant walk, this time along the lakeshore.
The following day we retrieved our car from its parking garage and headed for Bergamo, stopping at yet another cute tourist town, Sirmione,. It’s rather special, being located on a narrow peninsula that projects straight out from the southern edge of the lake. We were glad we got there early. It’s astonishing how many tourists there were in this area even in October!
|Bergamo's Città Alta at sunset.|
|Bergamo's upper city, seen from the lower city.|
OK, “more historic” doesn’t mean there was no history in the lower part. It is more modern, but we stayed in a (very nicely) refurbished 15th Century building. There’s a gentility and a prosperity to the whole city; but the Città Alta was built first and is the most picturesque. The climb up can be avoided (fortunately!) by a funicular, a steep cogged railway. Well worth the one Euro price! (We did walk down, though.)
|The lower city from the Città Alta.|
|The Città Alta from an even higher hill!|
The “big event” of the upper city is the Venetian Walls. Yes, walls built by Venetians… the ones from Venice, 120 miles to the east. Their power and influence extended far enough to carve the winged lion of St. Mark above the doors to the city of Bergamo.
|The Venetian walls showing the winged lion of St. Mark.|
|The main square of the Città Alta; note the winged lion over the balcony.|
Our odyssey was nearing its end, and we were ready to get back to Montpellier. But we had one more stop…
|The road in front of where we stayed in Bergamo: cobblestones. Hard to walk on, miserable on a bike, very noisy with cars and trucks. But authentic!|
|The city of Turin and the Palazzo Carignano, as seen from the top of the Mole Antonelliana|
|Turin, also, has porticos. (Must be a northern Italian thing.)|
|Porticos, and trams, too!|
Top of the list is the Mole Antonelliana and the National Museum of Cinema that it houses. Apparently, mole in Italian means really big building—and Antonelliana was the name of the architect. It’s certainly a really big building, tallest in the city, and made of brick (it has some height record for tallest brick building, I think). I was initially not so keen on the building (remember, moments, not monuments!), but we did go, and I am glad.
|Mole Antonelliana from street level.|
It was fantastic. Inside, the enormous dome-like space was devoted to the cinema of the 20th Century. Italian cinema is strongly featured (as it should be!); so is French cinema (as it, too, should be); so, for that matter, is American cinema (as it must be). Visitors relaxed in the recliners littering the vast floor, studying the huge screens suspended in the air which played scenes from movies both well-known and obscure.
|In case the video doesn't work: interior of the Museum of Cinema.|
Meanwhile, an elevator rose through it all, seemingly unsupported, carrying visitors to the observation deck at the top of the building.
It was trippy!
We had already passed through a couple of centuries of historical exhibits examining artists’ attempts to move beyond static images and capture the dynamics of real life. The concepts of the camera obscura, shadow puppetry, the zoetrope, Muybridge's horse in motion, and the efforts of the Lumière Brothers were already familiar, but it was fascinating to see explanations and collections of these early devices, many of them in operation. There were also extensive collections of early cameras and projectors. We were fortunate in that we’d fit in between groups of school kids, and there was no one else in this part of the museum!
|(Yet another) church, this with an interesting dome.|
|The Mole Antonelliana from a distance.|
For the rest of our time in Turin we just wandered, taking in the historical buildings, the African drummers, the photo shoot happening in the middle of the main square, and people just going about their daily business. Oh, and let’s not forget the psychedelic church interiors that stood out even in this land of psychedelic church interiors.
|A photo shoot in the middle of the main square in town; most passersby were blasé; happens all the time, I guess!|
On our last evening Will met us for an apéro at a beautiful belle epoch café, resplendent in cream-colored walls set off with gold leaf.
|The Caffé Platti, inside and out.|
We could have spent several more weeks in Turin, but home was calling. (Besides, we’d only booked three nights because lodging was really hard to find in Turin!). The next day we left the city to drive through the Alps to Montpellier.
Sacra di San Michele
Sacra di San Michele
But first, we had to stop at the Sacra di San Michele, a church and abbey perched dramatically on a cliff far above the highway. (In the opening scenes of the movie The Name of the Rose, this is the abbey, tall and forlorn in the far distance, the two traveling monks stop to contemplate.)
|San Michele seen from the road below.|
It took about 40 minutes to drive the few steep kilometers. Around each bend—and there were very many—we were terrified we would encounter a tour bus on the way down. But as it was early; the tour buses were still on their way up. We arrived unscathed.
Throughout this visit—the drive up, the long walk from the parking, and climbing the many worn stone steps to the uppermost terrace of the abbey—we kept thinking: who built this Place? Why? And, most of all, how?
|View from the top: the valley below and the road home.|
What I found most astonishing was the map showing the seven churches and abbeys devoted to Michael, the Archangel. They form a line from Jerusalem in the south-east to Skellig Michael, off the coast of Ireland, in the north-west: all. Included were Mont Saint-Michel off the Normandy coast, and of course this abbey in Northern Italy.
|All these abbeys dedicated to St. Michael... in a straight line?!|
We spent over an hour exploring and climbing up and up for the views from the very top. The sight of the highway in the valley far below reminded us we had a long drive ahead. We followed the path down, down, down to the car and eventually to that highway in the valley, the road home.
|The impressive Sacra di San Michele seen from the distance.|
(Photo from Google Images)
By the numbers: We spent $267USD on tolls for the 975-mile round trip, and $215USD on fuel (about $0.26 per mile.). Surprisingly, parking was a big part of our costs: $220 to store the car when not in use. Renting the car cost $340USD, for a total transportation cost of $1050: comparable with the cost of taking trains for the both of us.
And that’s it for our Italian trip! Next up: life in Montpellier…