The first introductory 'Whistle Stop Tour' of Italy's most famous cities almost scrambled my brains.
Oh the majesty of Venice! To see painter Canaletto's (little canal) print of the Piazzetta on the wall of my childhood home become a reality before my eyes, was a joy; and as we alighted the ferry, was that Vivaldi's music I could hear?! There is a magic veiling Venice which delights. Were we really walking across the vast Piazza San Marco, gazing at St. Mark's Campanile, and the Doge's Palace? Alas, there is only room for a thumb-print.
Travelling through Italy's verdant countryside, with the divine voices of Pavarotti, Carreras and Domingo (radio-borne), we were charmed by the terracotta roofs dotting the horizon, the abundant flowers and the adjective-begging scenery passing our window.
It seems almost criminal not to give a brief description of Assissi, but we were impressed. Next stop, Rome. Hardly a place you could ignore – from the vastness of St. Peter's Square, the grandeur of The Vatican, the incredible Sistine chapel, to the many churches and museums. Our brains were in danger of over-load...
Trevi Fountain, Rome, arguably the most beautiful in the world.
We next added our coins to the three offered in the film to the Trevi Fountain; stood in the Coliseum, which seemed steeped in death, and from where I escaped asap! Via the town of Pisa, with its famous leaning tower (yes we had our photo taken holding it up!) we arrived in Florence – 'Cradle of Renaissance' – wondered at The Diomo (cathedral) Santa Maria del Fiore, and the quaintness of the Ponte Vecchio, shop-bearing bridge straddling the river Arno.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Yet another jewel in Italy's impressive tiara. Satiated by so much antiquity, we longed for the following week's calmer atmosphere.
Catching us by surprise...inducing a coach load of travellers to catch their collective breath - the town of Riva suddenly lay at our feet: the sparkling waters of Lake Garda lapping the hem of its skirt. Praises buzzed in the air like bees¸ smiles inhabited faces. We were in thrall of its beauty and had surely found a little piece of heaven! As recorded by murals and mosaics, ancient Romans visited this lovely haven. No fools they! Elongated Lake Garda sits grandly in the north eastern part of Italy, surrounded by towering cliffs and mountains with abundant vegetation; saucer-like, creamy magnolias growing on its slopes.
Every day, around late morning, a determined wind whipped up the lake water. Cue wind-surfers, who appeared like water-borne butterflies. Later, fun over, they disappeared as the wind dropped, leaving the lake serene.
Boats on Lake Garda
Our hotel – more than we had hoped for after the basic fare of our first week's tour – was delightful, with 'silver service' at our elbows. (It was, after all, a reasonably priced package holiday.) The service was impeccable, the food delicious, and the waiters handsome... As in Spain, the pleasing Passeggiata – promenading – was popular with local families: the praiseworthy public gardens the venue. Riva has a tranquil, refined air, the inhabitants mostly elegant Italians. The shops and produce were a delight, and the restaurants and cafes had me purring like a spoiled cat. As for the rest rooms – there were 'state of the art' loos in Riva – self-flushing, and taps which turned themselves magically on.
So, what did we do in Riva? We explored, admired, laughed a lot, ate a lot...fortunately walked a fair mile or so...and ferry-chugged across the satin-like waters of the lake to sup coffee and eat delicious pastries in a minimalist café on the far shore. Exploring the many small towns and hamlets peppering Lake Garda's banks was a must (a bus hugs its contours). The narrow, medieval, cobbled streets come alive as I recall the charms of Sirmione and Malcesine; and in Desenzano there is a castle and grounds where outdoor concerts are held.
A trip to pristine, pretty Gardone, pleased, and a day in buzzing Verona: "Wherefore art thou Romeo" intrigued. An aged edifice boasted a painted fresco: a faded scene, in part depicting the devil prodding his fork into the ample posterior of a well-endowed maiden, bawdy enough to bring a blush to a Nun's cheek.