Within a few days of deciding we would settle in Germany, quite a few things fell into place. Two important ones were (1) knowing the kids would start school on 15 September, and (2) being able to get licence plates for the car we bought. With both of these sorted by early September, I decided to take a road trip with the kids to northern Italy to see my family.
We got on the autobahn in Stuttgart and stayed on it until Rosenheim, past Munich. Then we turned off the autobahn: I wanted to take smaller roads through Austria so we could get up close and personal with the mountains in East Tirol. It was an amazing drive! You’d be driving through a valley surrounded by some big boys, then ahead some cloud would clear and there would be an impossibly large mountain further on. The only snag was, we decided to head south to Italy from a town called Zell am See which would have taken us down the Grossglockner Hochalpinstrasse (Grossglockner = big Austrian mountain, Hoch = high, alpin strasse hopefully you can work out). It looked pretty cool on the map:
Unfortunately, we got as far as the (ooh, how to explain this – just after that “107” label is a bend in the road that looks like an “M”, yeah? Then a few wiggles on from that is one that looks like a stretched figure 8 on its side? You with me? Yeah – there) only to find out the road was closed because of a motorbike race. So we had an hour’s detour back north to the bigger road, we cut west to a town called Mittersill and then followed the next road south through the mountains.
It was all smooth sailing through East Tirol to a town called Lienz (pronounced Leenz). This town has the Alps behind it and the Dolomites in front – a stunning setting. From there we had to cross the Dolomites through the Plöckenpass. I was expecting windy here, what I wasn’t expecting was that it also had quite a bumpy, shitty surface! Here’s the approach from Austria heading up:
And here’s our descent into Italy, having crossed the border at Timau. Yes, the yellow line is the road (we’re approaching from the bottom of your picture):
Sorry I don’t have actual photos, a combination of me being the only adult and there not being a whole lot of places to pull over. Oh, and I got car sick.
Yes, I was driving.
But I still got car sick.
No, I didn’t actually puke, but after negotiating some wrong turns after Rosenheim, the detour to Mittersill, a headache since about Zell, leaving Germany at 9am and only crossing into Italy around 6:30pm, driving something like 700km, I wasn’t feeling fantastic. I told the kids and they were very sweet about it, but we didn’t want to stop – we wanted to crank on to M’s house as quickly as possible.
We drove south through Tolmezzo, Gemona, and into San Daniele (I thought that was on the way – it wasn’t) so for the first time in our journey we got out the GPS which took us the last 15 minutes to M’s – yay! M (bless her) had pizza for us, but none of us were hungry. We’d had stops, and we’d had plenty of food, and when you’re basically not walking around for 11 hours you just don’t need anything.
We slept at her mother-in-laws around the corner – she has a spare apartment. I remember falling on the bed and Molly taking my shoes off for me. Aawww…
So that was the drive, what did we do while we were there? Well, we…
- drove over the border to Slovenia to go to a shopping mall there for lunch (oh, and shopping). Molly got nail polish. I got socks;
- drove back from Slovenia through Gorizia castle and the Collio wine roads – vineyards everywhere, and we visited an abbey with a view over Friuli for miles;
- had a day at the beach town of Lignano;
- Went to a sagra at Fagagna! A sagra is … how shall I put it: a kind of “the whole community gets together and eats outdoors in summer” event, and every town has them. Fagagna’s is special because it’s on the weekend of their annual donkey race. Don’t think charming old men in straw hats on the back of a mule, think serious jockeys in silks and the donkeys are pulling them on sulkies. It’s been going for 124 years now, and it was on the day we went to Lignano. The sagra afterwards has a huge crowd dining in big open area in the town hall and then dancing to the live band in the main piazza. It is just one of many things that make you so jealous of Italians and how they live, *sigh*…
- Visited the walled city of Venzone in the Dolomites. Much of the wall was destroyed in the 1976 earthquake but it has been mostly restored since then;
- swam in the Palar river in Alesso, in the foot of the Dolomites. You’ve never seen water this clear – and as we had 30 degrees we didn’t mind that it was pretty cold too;
- Swung past a beautiful castle, Villalta di Fagagna, on the way to a shopping trip, got accosted by the groundsman who thought about telling us off (as it was closed) but he gave us a little tour instead;
- Finally, bought fresh ricotta, hard cheese and salame from a latteria before driving back to Germany.
It was also great to see family and meet M’s in-laws. Thanks to D and D for the tour around Slovenia. Also big thanks to A, M’s mother-in-law, for putting us up in her apartment and taking us the long way around on our shopping trip so we could see some great views across the area and get lucky with that castle tour. A thought I was pretty luck with that, and the weather, so she started calling me “culo grande”. Figurately, it means “you lucky person”. Literally – ha! You can look it up… oh gosh but when you do, please search for “culo grande lucky” or you may see some unpleasant pictures.
Speaking of pictures, a selection of photos from our trip appears below. Meanwhile for our trip home, we took the autobahn all the way from Italy to Germany. It was quicker, and they tend not to be closed for motorbike races.
Au$trian Autobahn$ – and petrol prices
Ha! Turns out you have to pay (a lot) for Austrian autobahns. Everyone in Italy told me I needed to buy a “vignette”, so on our return trip, at one of the last petrol stations before the Italian-Austrian border, I bought one for €8.50 for 10 days (that’s the minimum). Cool. Sorted.
Scenery-wise, the autobahn is not a lot less than the B roads we travelled – still some pretty amazing sights including a WALL of rock, rising straight up for about 200m, and you drive straight for it as the autobahn tunnel goes right underneath it.
Anyways, we driving along through towards Salzburg and then just before Salzburg, there’s a toll. €11. So basically, when you buy the vignette, you have bought permission to pay to use the autobahn.
Italian autostrade also have tolls but they’re not too bad. German autobahn are completely free – although they tend to have more queues than other countries’ motorways.
Oh and while we’re here, cheapest petrol was:
- Austria (around €1.37 a litre)
- Slovenia (€1.45)
- Germany (€1.50)
- and finally Italy (€1.70)
Add a premium to that if you are filling up on a motorway petrol station. Speaking of filling up at a motorway station – or rather, the opposite of filling up:
I now almost happily pay to use the toilet
I can’t beat it so I’ll join it. I am now inured to the fact that if I’m on a motorway and I need to go, I am prepared to part with €0.70. And if everyone else needs to go, that was €2.10. Fine.
If you’re smart though, you do it first because often when you buy your “ticket” you get a voucher for around €0.50 which you can redeem on anything you buy in the motorway stop. Like I say, almost happy.
Here you go:
How big are them mountains, Molly?
Driver needs her bar of Milka – this is in Austria, just a few minutes before we find out we need to turn around and backtrack:
T, L, Molly and Jack after we arrived at M’s place:
Gorizia Castle, just inside the Italian border from Slovenia:
Swimming at Lignano:
Sagra in Fagagna! M, Molly and Jack having chicken, polenta and chips:
“Municipio” = town hall. “Ai Chioschi” = to the kiosks, of course. That’s the entrance to the dining area.
Soaking up the atmos, the band, the dancing and some sugared almonds at Fagagna:
Venzone, the walled city and I think it’s a UNESCO heritage site too:
Cooling off afterwards in the Palar at Alesso. Now you can see how clear that water is:
Finally, Villalta castle and the mosaic outside the latteria where we bought our ricotta: