Sunday, 27 March 2011

Lago di Garda - Wrapping up our first trip to Italy (finally)

Lake Garda, and if you tilt your head right and squint a little...
Having visited Venice and explored Verona, the last day of our Italian trip in September '10 was spent at Lago di Garda (Lake Garda), which lies about 20 km to the east-north-east of Verona.  It's an amazing site from the air, shaped like the head, neck and body of an emu or a moa perhaps, and, like most of Italy, was at least as pretty from the ground.  Our trip also marked my first (and to date only) swim since I left Aotearoa, so I have very fond memories of the place.

We spent most of our time in Lazise, stopping along the way to buy onions (for dinner) and peaches, and for me to learn a lesson in Italian shopping customs.  Apparently, and I had no idea beforehand, one never handles produce before purchasing it in Italy, which meant even my physical inspection of the peaches before purchase at the roadside store we stopped at was a major faux pas. Never mind, there was not so much harm done, apart from being subjected to some quite intense scowls from the middle-aged stallholders, but I'm surprised I didn't commit a similar sin during my first trip to Italy in 2005.   The custom appears to be Italy wide, and an extremely reliable source informs me that in Sicily they even employ people in supermarkets to collect your fruit and vegetables for you.  The end result was a purchase of several more giant peaches than I'd intended to come away with, but thankfully they were delicious.

Italy - outside it's all ruins, ruins, ruins....
The tiny town of Lazise is another in a series of a thousand wonderful ancient Italian towns.  In addition to the obligatory semi-ruined fortress walls and bustling cobbled marketplaces, Lazise's charm is that it is built right on the lake front, and you're just a five minute walk from the beach.  The lake itself resembled Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake), Rotorua in colour, clarity and temperature, but a whole lot bigger and busier.  It was also a beach that Germany apparently never got around to surrendering after World War II.  The scenes were quite amazing, German tourists occupying nearly every square-inch of grass and sand,  beach umbrellas advertising Maisel's Weissbier on them (Maisel being a Bayreuth brewery), and I could vaguely understand what people were talking about (or at least the odd word or two).  Quite extraordinary, and I was told upon my return to Bayreuth that the flood of Germans south in August and September means a lot of other Germans would rather spend their summers at home, preferring to explore places like Italy, Croatia, Spain and Greece when there's a chance they'll met locals rather than their neighbours from back home.  In true German style, the beaches had designated and fenced off swimming areas.  Fortunately though, despite the temperature being a very pleasant 24-25 degrees, these areas weren't at all crowded, so I loved every second of my swim, as did Matilda, who joined me for a while.  Well, she loved it once the shivering had ceased anyways.

....and inside it's all class.

After a bit of time on the beach and a compulsory gelato, we went on a drive along the western shore of the lake, past giant ferries packed with holiday makers, and several small little towns each one as charming as the one previous.  We then headed back to Verona for risotto Milanese alla Alana, which went down well with a glass or two of Franken riesling, sitting on the balcony of our wonderful host's apartment.  Being on holiday in Italy when the weather is good warm is simply fantastic, and journey home the next morning to rainy old Bayreuth was a melancholy one, just to put it mildly.

Ah, beaches and sunny skies.  I'd comment more, but I am blinded by tears of nostalgia.

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