From the Front Seat
We crossed the penultimate border, from Switzerland into France, winding our way up and down the Jura mountains. The nice little town of Pontarlier, in Roman times the main crossing point between Helvetia and Gaul, was our destination for the night. We stayed in a small but charming eaves room at Hotel St Pierre, and relaxed, feeling at home in familiar and much-loved territory. Continue reading “Pretty places in France”
From Siena we moved north to Modena, a large university city with one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities. Unusually for an ancient city of learning, we saw little to interest us during our over-nighter here. We had booked into the instantly forgettable Hotel Donatello, which manages to combine high prices with tired accommodation in a bland tower block. It was a long walk along a busy road to get to the old town. Apart from looking round the outside of the very pretty pink and white marble cathedral, the highlight of the evening was meeting a pleasant young Brazilian engineer called Alex, resident in Modena, who greeted us in English. This serendipitous meeting led to pre-dinner drinks together and an exchange of LinkedIn details. As engineers do. Continue reading “Breakfast in Austria, and other meals”
The red-brick city of Siena is one of Italy’s greatest jewels. Founded by the Romans (of course) it rose to become a great mediaeval banking centre, and a Renaissance rival of neighbouring Florence against whose army it inflicted a terrible defeat in the 13th century. (Correction: Youngest Son of Viet Nam travels fame corrects me, or at least wishes it to be known that an Etruscan hill tribe had already set up shop on the hill top when the Roman bully boys came along in AD30. But the legend is that the surviving sons of Remus, victim of fratricide back in Rome, were the founders. Take your pick.)
Siena was a major centre of culture, embellished with great works of architecture and art. But the Black Death in 1348 killed 60% of the population. It was a terrible blow from which Siena struggled to recover, and eventually the city fell into the hands of the Spanish monarchy, and those of rival Cosmo d’Medici of Florence. Continue reading “Siena the Magnificent”
If you’ve been awake in earlier blogs, dear Reader, you will know we previously crossed north Italy, west to east, in May on our way to Slovenia. We went quickly, eager (apparently) to leave behind good food and fast roads. This time, we’ve spent over a full week, and come the slow way back from south to north.
Starting in Brindisi, a slippery ride (all the streets are made of marble, I kid you not, and while this looks pretty, it tends to wear the Rider down to a sweaty heap of basic Anglo-Saxon), we headed north along the coast of Apulia. I won’t detail our night in Brindisi, as the young and voracious owner of the appalling room we stayed in doesn’t deserve any publicity. Suffice to say Booking.com have been firmly corrected about his listing. Continue reading “Italy the second time around: surprises and not-surprises.”
29 – 31 May
We arrived at Berat mid-afternoon, having travelled on quite a good road, although we’d been warned by another blogger not to attempt the road running onwards south from there. We had booked the Maya Hostel by phone, and were warmly welcomed by Miri, the proprietor and the best host we’ve had anywhere in the Orient Espresso itinerary. Everywhere we’ve been in Albania, we’ve been surprised by the competency of English spoken, and delighted by the warm welcome and interest Albanians have shown us. A very hospitable nation – nowhere more so than in Berat.
We were very impressed with the Red Bricks Hotel in Shkodër. For something like the cost of a rock bottom B&B at home, we stayed in a huge comfortable room, with air conditioning, hot and cold running English-speaking receptionists (Jaconda by night and Delinda by day), free clothes washing without the unfortunate side effects of exposure to detergent, and a first class view of the casual labour line-ups of temporary staff conducted on the opposite side of the road.
We think that was what we saw, anyway. Continue reading “Of muezzin calls, linden trees and Albanian shops”