Today we started early again so we could be on the road by 7:45am to make the long drive to Venice and still have time to make our stops along the way.
The driving part was uneventful – except for the spectacular scenery as we passed through the alps and the impressive tunnels (one was 17km long!).
Our first stop was at Sermione – about 5 hrs from Lucerne (with a couple of rest stops along the way). It’s a peninsula that sticks out into Lake Gardo and has a long history (Etruscans, Romans, the medieval Scaligeri family, Venice, etc.) of occupation. The most impressive features are the ruins of a huge (largest in northern Europe) Roman bath complex and a 700 year old castle (with enclosed port – the only one of its kind in Italy). The best way to see all of the peninsula in a short period of time is to go by boat so that’s what we did… The weather was beautiful (sunny and warm) and perfect for a boat ride.
Our captain gave us a quick tour around the castle (his English was okay but not great so there wasn’t a lot of talking but he covered the high points), then ran us up to the Roman ruins at the tip of the peninsula (point out Maria Callas’ villa along the way) past a Romanesque 8th century church at the top of the hill and then back to the castle (stopping to point out the bubbles rising from the underwater hot springs that attracted so many inhabitants through the years). After our boat ride we had a little over an hour to explore (and get some food) so after grabbing a slice of pizza, we poked around inside the walls of the castle (finding a very cool 12th century Cathedral to explore)… Then it was time to sample some of their delicious gelato – it more than lived up to its advance billing! Their selection was enormous (when Marie, Caitlin and I were in Italy a couple of years ago, it was rare to find liquorice gelato and pink grapefruit gelato was like the elusive white whale… In Sermione we found both at the first shop we stopped at… And at very attractive prices). I could only a 2 scoop serving but some of the kids were able to handled the much larger 3 scoop servings – a feat I’m sure their dentists appreciate greatly.
Sermione was a highlight for everyone I think. The lake waters are crystal clear and look almost like tropical ocean waters. The architecture is awesome and the alleys and little streets in and around the castle could keep you occupied for hours… But judging from the Range Rovers, Hummers, BMWs and other luxury vehicles, this is not a playground for the middle classes.
After far too short a time in Sermione it was time to pile back on the bus to make the approximately 1hr drive to Verona – setting for Shakespeare’s famous play Romeo and Juliet. Verona was a major medieval and Renaissance city – controlled first by the Romans, then by Scaligeri family in the medieval period and then by the Venetians from the 14th to the 17th centuries when it was taken by the Hapsburgs. It’s big city with a very impressive Roman amphitheatre (essentially a miniature version of the Colosseum in Rome but in much better shape) and a maze of medieval and Renaissance streets, alleys and buildings. We didn’t have a lot of time but we were able to see an impressive set of raised medieval tombs of the Scaligeri family, Juliet’s balcony (a middle ages house owned by the Capulet family with an impressive balcony made from a reclaimed Roman sarcophagus but that probably had nothing whatsoever to do with Shakespeare’s play but is good for tourism) and to spend some time shopping in the little market and stores in and around the old Roman forum (later the central square of the town). The highlight of the trip to Verona was probably rubbing the statue of Juliet’s breast – it’s supposed to grant your wish… Then it was back on the bus for the remainder of the trip to Venice.
Actually we were never really heading for Venice tonight but rather for Mestrino – one of Venice’s many suburbs. Our hotel for the night was a very impressive late 19th century hotel (1870) with beautiful rooms (way beyond the usual standard for EF tours… or Doherty family tours for that matter). Marie and I were given a very nice modern room with rain shower, king bed, etc. while the kids all got various character rooms – some with balconies or sunroofs… It’s a fantastic hotel and the owner is charming (so far he’s slapped one of our kids upside the head in some kind of enthusiastic handshaking and slapping welcome ritual, scolded a bunch of kids for not finishing the food on their plates, made kids take second helpings despite protestations that they were full and generally acted like your charming – but also not to be trifled with because he might be crazy – Italian uncle. The food for tonight was good (but small portions) with a starter of penne in a pomodoro type sauce with an entree of sliced coto ham (like deli slices) and some sautéed vegetables and a nice dessert of what was basically upside down apple cake… It was all very tasty but the entree in particular seemed a bit sparse – especially for our bigger eaters.
The only downside to the hotel is its location on a busy street in an unattractive (as in not much to do or see after 8:30pm) part of town… Probably one of the reasons they’re looking to EF for group tours rather than selling out on their own… Put this hotel in another location and there’s no way they’d be catering to groups of school kids. And the internet sucks…
After dinner everyone headed for their rooms and turned in early as the plan for the next day was to be leaving the hotel at 7:30 to get an early start on our full day in Venice…
Before I turned in for the night, I decided to try and contact Rogers to find out why my “talk and text” plan was actually more of a “no talk and no text” plan… And so follows yet another in a long line of customer service blog posts that will make you shake your head… Of course, I couldn’t call the number Rogers provides because I wasn’t able to make any calls (the reason I was trying to contact Rogers) and the hotel’s internet was too spotty to make a voice call using Rogers One Number app… So I called Roger’s customer service using Marie’s phone – a Bell phone (a fact I made sure to point out to the Roger’s customer support person). When I finally got through to a person, she assured my that my account was set up correctly and there was no reason why I shouldn’t be able to make calls or send texts… “But I can’t send texts or make calls,” I say… “But you can” she says… “That may be, but I am not able to make any calls or send any texts”… “How about I connect you with technical support?” she says. “That would be a good idea” I say. So she connects me with technical support. “Well I can see at least one problem right off” he says. “Yup… that’s what I thought…” he says. “What’s that?” I ask. It turns out that Rogers puts an automatic block on international calls and internet use as a default on accounts. Okay. That makes sense. But why is there a block on my account when I have purchased an international talk and text plan – you’d think that blocking texts and calls would make it difficult to place international calls or send texts… Turns out that the Rogers app that they encourage you to use to purchase the plans can’t remove the block on the account… So they sell you the plan knowing that many people will not be able to use it… That would explain why it didn’t work last summer when we travelled to central Europe – when I talked to the guy in the Rogers store he said that was probably due to poor cell service in central and eastern Europe… Strange that he never thought to mention that Rogers blocks international calls and texts by default. Some company’s approach to customer service really leave me scratching my head. In all, it took more than an hour to sort it all out and less than 10 seconds for the tech to make the correction on my account. But the good news is, at least my phone is working now.
I am thoroughly enjoying your blogs Kirk. I have known Fraser since birth & am so excited that he has this opportunity to see some beautiful places & have some history lessons in the actual settings…I love your writing style & I often laugh out with your description of people & events. I am able to relive my European trip in 2013 through the blog & the photos. Keep up the good work & I wish all of you “safe travels’. Pat Savage