Excuse Me, Wells, Can I Have Your Autograph?

We took some downtime in Conwy the other day and were lucky enough to have an impressive collection of DVDs at our disposal at the B&B.  I’d wanted to see Hot Fuzz for ages, so when I saw it on the shelf, I snagged it with a quickness.

From the same guys who brought us Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz follows Nicholas Angel, an overachiever cop from London who gets forcibly transferred to a village in the boonies for making his colleagues look bad.  All seems incredibly boring in Sandford until a series of murders pushes Officer Angel into super cop mode.

On his first night in town, Nicholas walks out of the pub and makes a wish in the town fountain.  When I saw the fountain, I thought, “What the…???  No way…”  The fountain looked very familiar, but I thought that deja vu would be easy in a country like this.

In a scene a few minutes later, however, I saw him jogging by a very familiar moat and castle which I instantly recognized.  I boxed Charity’s arm and exclaimed, “Hey, that’s the Bishop’s Palace in Wells!!”  She didn’t believe me, until he ran around the corner, by the familiar fountain, and right up the street, stopping outside the Swan Hotel, two doors down from the inn we stayed in.  Well, she didn’t even really believe me then as I had to rewind and pause so she could clearly read the hotel name and accompanying signage.  She thought it was a common hotel name, which it might be, but I spent a lot of time outside of that place while she went in to inquire about vacancy and rates, so I was kind of in tune with the signage.

In any case, I would have enjoyed the movie anyway as it was a spoof-homage to cop/action movies (as Shaun was to the  zombie/horror genre), but I loved it even more since I was just in that village a few days prior and recognized a lot of the settings.  OK, I guess the latter’s not hard since the town centre is kind of tiny, but you know what I mean.  Very cool.  And kind of like, “what are the chances??”

We have passed through many, many villages and stayed in only a handful.  I thought Wells was a neat little town, and now, I feel lucky to have stumbled upon it in the first place.

Fountain in Wells town square

Fountain in Wells town square

The UK Countryside

After bumping around for a few days in Southern England, we headed north via motorway with Maylene driving and me navigating.  Yes – she gets the award because not only is she driving on the left-hand side of the road, but she’s also driving a manual and shifting with her left hand — my hero!!

Prior to heading north, we spent a few days driving through the Cotswolds, a beautiful section of the English countryside.  It was amazing — green and lush and tranquil and yes, as Rick Steves says, quaint even.

As we headed to Wales, we were surprised to find that, if it’s even possible, the Welsh countryside is even more spectacular.  The hills and valleys dotted with sheep and ruinous castles took our breath away.  We stayed in the town of Conwy, a small harbor town built within the still-standing Conwy castle walls erected by Edward I in the late 1200s to suppress the Welsh uprisings – it along with six other enormous castles and 2x his total annual budget – definitely had the intended effect.  We went on the very good guided tour – we loved learning about the castle defenses and in our heads, relating them to the RPGs we’ve enjoyed playing so much.

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle

The Conwy Castle guide - Neil (he was great!)

Conwy Castle guide - Neil Hilton (he was great!)

The town and surrounding area is so very charming – it is a must-see for any visitor to the area.  We also really appreciated the dual-language used in the area as all signs were in both Welsh and English.  The area even has it’s own BBC programming in Welsh as 25% of the people still speak the beautiful language.  We were sad to finally leave Wales and to no longer have the bilingual signs.

A sample bilingual Welsh sign

A sample bilingual Welsh sign

We were headed to another really amazing area, however, the Lake District.  It is this hilly and lake-filled region that has been designated a national park.  The rocky hills covered with grass and shrubs are home to – you guessed it – sheep too.  We took a detour off the “main road” (a two lane windy thoroughfare) on a tiny lane that really should have been one way but was designated as two – passing the Volvo in a tight spot was fun — I watched as they electronically pulled in their mirrors so we could squeeze by.  Maylene told me she didn’t see anything – she was too busy trying not to hit their car!  The detour ran along the lake and was supposed to take us to another ancient rock circle but instead took us across the lakes along a reservoir road and when we reached back to the main road, Maylene had enough of it and we headed to the town proper.  Too funny!

Picture taken from lake shore

Picture taken from lake shore

What a great waterfall!

What a great waterfall!

So now we’re sitting here debating about which area is the most beautiful – Maylene still votes Wales and I have to admit, there really is something brilliant about it but the Lake District is also amazing — I can’t wait to see what we think of Scotland which is next on the itinerary!

Stonehenge and Avebury

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So before we set out from the lovely, medieval town of Wells on our adventure to Stonehenge and Avebury, we’d been assured by pretty much everyone that Stonehenge would be “a disappointment” and that Avebury would be a much better and more accessible ancient ruinous site.  We came upon Stonehenge and decided to determine whether or not we wanted to spend the money to get into the site itself.

When we approached, we saw that not only was the whole area chain-link fenced off but even if you had paid the money to get into it, you’d only be able to get about 100 feet away from the stones.  This was truly disappointing.  So, we saved our money, took pictures from the outside, and enjoyed our picnic lunch in the parking lot while listening to tour guides complain about how difficult their jobs are and how hard it is to keep track of how many boxed lunches they have given out and how much money they have collected – too funny!

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Excited to keep moving and get to Avebury in time to romp and frolic with the stones, we set-off.  The Avebury site is also an ancient but less well-known Druid archeological site – 16x the size of Stonehenge and with just as much historical significance.  When we arrived to the area, we were excited to see that we could walk right up to the 25 ton stones – taking pictures and even sitting on some of the low, stable looking ones.  The main difference (aside from accessibility and size) that we could see was that Avebury didn’t have any of the smaller 17 ton stones resting horizontally on any of the vertical stones.  One other really cool thing about Avebury was the sheep grazing in and among the stones — cool but also very poop-ridden.

Visiting the Avebury site is a definite must-do — it was a really cool ancient site and confluence of ley lines.   The town was cute and quaint and filled with Druidic history and the surrounding area was steeped with tradition and folklore – we even glimpsed some of the enormous chalk carvings of horses and other designs in the mounds en route to Avebury.  Too cool!

Avebury - 16x the size of Stonehenge

Avebury - 16x the size of Stonehenge

Avebury - check out the sheep scratching on the rock

Avebury - check out the sheep scratching on the rock

Maybe even cooler than Avebury was our visit to Mr. Wilkin’s apple farm in the tiny village of Mudgley where he makes delicious scrumpy — it was a total “back door” moment and we got a kick out of watching him work — he was two weeks behind schedule for harvesting and a bit too busy to spend a lot of time with us but the drink was great and we bought 2 liters to go — yummm!!!

Huge barrels of dry and sweet cider

Huge barrels of dry and sweet cider

Mr. Wilkins spraying down the apple pressing room

Mr. Wilkins spraying down the apple pressing room

Not Cantebury’s Bath

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After that late flight into London, we immediately hopped a train out of Paddington Station the next day, saving our London touring for later. Our real first stop in merry old England was a city you may have heard of called Bath.

Before Rick Steves, I’d only known of Bath through high school English’s Cantebury Tales .  Yeah, I didn’t remember much of the Wife of Bath’s Tale either, but we ended up going there on Rick’s advice, and I’m glad we did.  Depending on who you speak to, the main draw to the town is either its Abbey or the Roman baths.  While the Abbey is nice, it was the latter that really drew our attention to the city.

Bath is fortunate to have the only natural thermal springs in the UK, and it appears that the ancient, indigenous people (the Celts) already worshiped at the main spring before the Romans appeared to build their own “all-inclusive” resort around 43 AD.  It was all-inclusive because along with the intricate (and awesome) bath complex, the Romans also built a huge temple to worship Sulis, a water goddess whose name was incorporated into the Roman name for Bath, Aquae Sulis (the waters of Sulis).

The Goddess Sulis Minerva

The Goddess Sulis Minerva

Main Bath

Main Bath

Touring the Roman baths, we were fascinated with the technology and reach of the ancient empire.  “Brittania” was at the very edge of their holdings, truly in the “sticks”, and yet it was a very famous spot for Romans to come and relax and worship.  The Romans spent over 300 years building onto and improving their resort, but when the empire started to fail, they pulled out around 410 AD, leaving the baths to ruin.  Over time, they fell into disrepair, and as time usually does, the complex was covered with silt and forgotten.  During the Dark Ages, the locals had no idea what their hovels were resting upon.  Long story short (too late), the baths weren’t rediscovered until about the 17th or 18th centuries and enjoyed incredible popularity first with royalty and then with the elite class.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time touring the place (we started late), but we thoroughly enjoyed what we saw.  Could have used another hour or so, for sure.

One quick thing– at one point in the museum, there was a scale model of what the Roman baths may have looked liked in its heyday.  There were little Romans all over the place (even little Roman slaves :-|) going about their business.  I mean, the whole museum is very well done…

Model of Roman Baths

Model of Roman Baths

But I happened to notice one teeny tiny anachronism hiding in the shadows…

Romans Really Were Advanced... ;-)

Romans Really Were Advanced... 😉

After checking out the Romans’ handiwork, we decided to go on the highly-touted Bizarre Bath tour.  Well, to be perfectly correct, Bizarre Bath isn’t really a tour– the proprietors describe it as a comedy walk through Bath with zero historical content.  The walk starts in front of a pub, so we had a couple of pints beforehand (and after– hehehe) and thoroughly enjoyed the strange and funny “tour” with its magic tricks, mockery of passersby, and Stu the Rabbit.  It’s kind of difficult to describe, but if you’re ever in Bath, I would highly recommend doing Bizarre Bath.  It’s one of those “gotta do it once” things.

The next day, we did an actual historical walk, provided free by the local tourist office and volunteer guides.  The tour took two hours, walking around the old town with our guide, Roger Wilson.  It was extremely informative, and Mr. Wilson was great.

Mr. Wilson, our guide, showing us an old loo, now built into the wall

Mr. Wilson, our guide, showing us an old "loo", now built into the wall

Another recommendation, but be sure to wear really comfortable walking shoes as the walk is long and over lots of odd surfaces.  I was already tired that day (I overdid a workout a few days prior), and my plantar fascitis was acting up, so by the end of the tour, I was sooooo ready for our visit to the new thermal spa.

*Tourist Trap Alert* Yes, the Thermae Bath Spa is one of those “if you liked the Roman baths, you’ll love our new state-of-the-art facilities” tourist trappy things.  We knew this going in, and even Mr. Wilson mentioned the spa with just a hint of disdain.  We went back and forth as to whether or not to go, but we figured the thermal springs have been a draw for this city for a couple thousand years (the full name of the city is actually Bath Spa— yeeeeaaaah…), and we also found a package dealy with a discount and a fancy dinner to be eaten in bath robes and slippers.  Sweet.  Ok, so the latter was actually better in theory than in practice, but you get my point.  We enjoyed the baths, but would only suggest going if you get some kind of deal.

All in all, we enjoyed Bath and would suggest spending a day or two there.  We would, however, strongly advise against renting a car from the local Europcar/National/Alamo agency if you need an automatic.  That’s a whole different story we will not get into here, but trust us– manuals are easy enough to rent, but if you need an automatic, fuggedaboutit.

And now, a small sampling of our pics…

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Merry Old England

We arrived in Heathrow late last night – at about 22:35. I had done some research ahead of time, so I knew that there were four ways to get from the airport to our hotel which was chosen for its proximity to the train station Paddington. These included taxi, Heathrow Connect (30 minute ride), Heathrow Express (15 minute ride), or the Underground (60 minutes with one transfer). We wandered around Heathrow trying to find the Connect or even the Express but were completely unsuccessful. Of course, we have yet to take a cab anywhere in Europe and certainly didn’t think it would be a good time to start — so, finding no better option, we jumped on the U and rode the Piccadilly line to the transfer with District and made it to our hotel by 23:45. Easy squeezy!
The room was booked with the intention of being just a place to sleep and shower before continuing our journey to Bath and boy am I ever glad that’s all we needed it for – it’s tiny and furnished with some interesting choices. Located on the fifth floor of a building with an elevator that only goes to four, we have used a lot of stairs and are happy once again, that we pack light. Both the double and the single beds in the room are low-quality and springy with an older Ikea look about them. The rest of the mish-mash furniture is jumbled throughout the room which does include an en-suite bathroom. The bathroom is hilarious – pretty small with things poking at you while you’re trying to use the toilet and a shower that only operates on dribbling steaming hot water. The breakfast was decent only if you purchased the upgrade to English breakfast for 3 pounds. The included meal was very basic at toast, cereal, and juice/coffee. The English included a fried egg, ham, sausage, baked beans, and canned tomatoes and was a decent value.

We arrived in Heathrow late last night – at about 22:35. I had done some research ahead of time, so I knew that there were four ways to get from the airport to our hotel which was chosen for its proximity to the train station Paddington. These included taxi, Heathrow Connect (30 minute ride), Heathrow Express (15 minute ride), or the Underground (60 minutes with one transfer). We wandered around Heathrow trying to find the Connect or even the Express but were completely unsuccessful. Of course, we have yet to take a cab anywhere in Europe and certainly didn’t think it would be a good time to start — so, finding no better option, we jumped on the U and rode the Piccadilly line to the transfer with District and made it to our hotel by 23:45. Easy squeezy!

The room was booked with the intention of being just a place to sleep and shower before continuing our journey to Bath and boy am I ever glad that’s all we needed it for – it’s tiny and furnished with some interesting choices. Located on the fifth floor of a building with an elevator that only goes to four, we have used a lot of stairs and are happy once again, that we pack light. Both the double and the single beds in the room are low-quality and springy with an older Ikea look about them. The rest of the mish-mash furniture is jumbled throughout the room which does include an en-suite bathroom. The bathroom is hilarious – pretty small with things poking at you while you’re trying to use the toilet and a shower that only operates on dribbling steaming hot water.

Great location though – just two blocks from the Paddington train station where we will take a train out to Bath and stay for two days.  The Roman Bath ruins are the big draw there – along with the Fashion Museum — hopefully I can drag Maylene to that one too!!

English breakfasts – here we come!!

We are on our way to the UK for about a month – flying into London tonight and directly onto Bath on Tuesday.  We’re taking Rick Steve’s general itinerary for UK touring in 22 days and cutting it down in a few places.

We will be checking out Stonehenge and Avebury after a few days of relaxing in Bath Spa (really, that’s the name). After that we hit the road with Maylene volunteering to drive us through Wales and Scotland. We are really getting excited about the prospect of driving again and are hoping for a GPS this time. Yes – this is another thing we short-sightedly decided to leave at home, thinking it was too bulky for the trip. Yes – we’ve been kicking ourselves since we rented in Switzerland. It seems like they agencies never seem to have any more in stock when we arrive and/or, they didn’t equip the car with it and it took them two hours to get it to you in the first place — yipes! I’m hoping for a much easier pick-up in Bath.

If anyone has advice to provide about the UK, including Ireland (our next stop) – we’d love to hear it!

Queens of the Rhein

If you ever need to feel like a Princess again (yes, I’m talking to you Bill), the Rhein Valley in Germany is just where you should head!  After spending the night in Rothenburg, we took the Romantic Road – which incidentally, is really not that romantic at all, especially with all the construction.  We bailed out early, near Wurzburg and Maylene got to have fun with the autobahn — just where the heck is Ausfahrt anyway?!

We arrived at Burg Liebenstein at around 3 pm and were upgraded to a suite due to scheduling issues and had two amazing views – one of the Rhine river and the castle surroundings and the other of the castle next door – Burg Sterrenburg.

Castle Across the Way

Castle Across the Way

Our room was at the top of the main house up a curling, crooked staircase barely big enough for our luggage – and trust me, we travel light at 30 lbs each with two backpacks and a small bag between us.

Before leaving, the owner showed me the fire escape and joked that this was the staircase that the ghosts used to access the bedroom while we slept.  Hahahaha… very funny.  Of course I was a bit paranoid about that but shouldn’t have been – we slept peacefully after the obnoxious Americans in the patio finally were told to go to their rooms by the owners.

We had dinner on the outdoor patio area and watched the sun set over the Rhein Valley and Sterrenburg castle.

Sterrenburg and the Rhein at Sunsent

Sterrenburg and the Rhein at Sunsent

Absolutely beautiful and a delicious meal that we both enjoyed.  We felt like royalty as one of two tables on the patio and could easily roll back time 500 years to imagine how the previous inhabitants would have passed the beautiful, late summer evening.  Magic!

We woke and enjoyed breakfast overlooking the Rhein Valley in a room decorated with plate metal armour and double-wielding swords and felt like we had the total castle experience.

In the evening we watched a Rick Steve’s video on the valley and learned that a nearby castle, Burg Eltz, was his favorite in Europe and decided to go check it out.  I navigated and Maylene drove and we checked out a whole bunch of castles along the river while I read from the guidebook.  These castles sprang up every few miles along the river so the Robber Barons could establish a fiefdom and use their control over the river to levy fees on the river merchants – reinforced with the very large chains they strung across the banks – good times!

Anywho – somehow, after a few wrong turns we finally found the road to Burg Eltz and followed it until termination at a point where it said the castle itself was 40 minutes away by hiking trail.  At this point, we had already come so far and had finally found the place, so we went for it – the hike through a part of the Black Forest was a pretty good one — not too strenuous but definitely an up and down and over the river kind of walk.  We finally arrived at the castle after 30 minutes

Burg Eltz Interior

Burg Eltz Interior

and found it to be under repair and coincidentally, charging twice what we had expected – oh yeah – and you can only go in by guided tour every 30 minutes.  That’ll be 25 minutes to the next English tour.  Okay – well, let’s make the best of it — having a quick snack before the tour began.  The tour itself was not exactly — errmmm… – well executed, let’s say.  Anyway – after it was over, I could not convince Maylene to go to the included treasury — she just wanted to get the heck out of there (and let me just admit that it was a rather feeble attempt).  So – we sped down the mountain and 30 minutes later hit the road again and saw a sign just down the road for the Burg Eltz P&R — 10 minutes away from the castle — arrggghhh!  That’s okay though – as it was – the best part of visiting this castle was the hike to it!

With map in hand and Maylene at the helm, we headed out of the Mosel Valley via a side street directly to St. Goar so that we could try to catch the ruinous Rheinfels castle before closing.

Rheinfels Ruins

Rheinfels Ruins

We made it with plenty of time to spare and loved the late afternoon walk through this amazingly enormous castle.  It reminded us of the Colosseum in Rome – on that scale, also used for a quarry, and just as run down.

We spent the night at Rudesheim am Rhein in this super-cheesy duck motif hotel – yes, duck was on the menu btw – “ente”, we learned a new word that day boys and girls.  It was in a great location though and we walked throughout the tiny town in the evening, sampling wine from a local vineyard — the Riesling is the local winner and was delicious!  That’s been a really cool aspect of the trip – sampling the local wines and beers that are so regionally distinct.  Yummm!!

The pics might look better in the album below – I had some trouble inserting some of them. Update: in true SNL “Your Company’s Computer Guy” fashion, Maylene said, “MOOOOVE” and fixed these pics.  Good times.

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A Day in Rothenburg

After Switzerland, we took the train up to Frankfurt just to pick up a rental car.  This time, however, we had no intention of using it as a hotel room, thank goodness!  Instead, we decided to ditch the train system again to get to that ever-elusive European “back door” Rick Steves keeps espousing.  Before heading off to the nearby Rhein River Valley, we made like the birds and flew south down the Autobahn to the quaint medieval village of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

With the car camping experience fresh in our minds, we decided to finally redeem one of our hotels.com rewards nights to “splurge” on a pricey room. We hit the jackpot with the King’s Suite in the Villa Mittermeier. Hands down, it was the most luxurious experience we’ve ever had in a hotel with outstanding customer service. Recommend.

IMG_7047

We checked into the hotel early, and because of Charity’s mad research skills, we knew our hotel was across the street from the Old Town wall. Sweet. We threw our stuff down in the room, ooh’d and aah’d over the coolness in the room, and made for the wall.

Now, way back in the medieval day, when Munich and Frankfurt were just bumps in the road, Rothenburg was the second-largest city in Germany at a population of 6,000. It was the crossroads of two major trading and pilgrimage routes, so it prospered for hundreds of years. Then, in the 1600’s, a series of unfortunate events including the Thirty Years War and the bubonic Plague left Rothenburg devastated, and it effectively went to “sleep” for a couple of hundred years. During the age of Romanticism in the late 1800’s, artists and travelers stumbled upon the sleepy town, giving birth to its tourism industry which it has enjoyed ever since. So it is with this knowledge that we visited Rothenburg, and we heard from friends who had been that it was the best example of a medieval town.

We did a bunch of wandering right away, following Rick Steves’ trusty self-guided walking tour. There were some really cool sights including the tiny door for curfew breakers and the rampart walk during which you could pretend to be a sentry on patrol OK, maybe that’s just me. Inevitably, I thought of how many times sentries died in RPG sessions. Yeah, morbid.

Stairs up to the town wall

Stairs up to the town wall

Testing the towns defenses

Testing the town's defenses

To be sure, we liked Rothenburg a lot. It truly was a cute German medieval town, one we’re glad we added to our trip… that said, the whole experience could be so much better if they banned motorized vehicles (except for deliveries and shuttles) throughout the town center. Loved the fountains (even through none were fit for drinking), loved the historic buildings, loved the ramparts, heck we even loved the huge, cheesy Christmas store. Hated the traffic in the town. I mean, seriously. The Old Town is super tiny. Walking the ramparts around the whole thing– that’s only 1.5 miles. During the day, the town is overwhelmed with tourists dodging cars on crazy cobblestones in narrow alleys. The cars just detract from the experience.

On Rick’s recommendation and the main reason we wanted to overnight in Rothenburg, we wanted to take the Night Watchman’s tour that night. The English tour runs daily at 8pm, long after the day-trippers have disappeared, leaving the town quiet (well, but for that dang town bell) and relatively empty. We had awesome local cuisine for dinner (brats, kraut, and potatoes) and washed it all down with local beer and wine.

The tour itself was great, and we really enjoyed it. The guy who runs it is a good host, guide, and showman. His effected accent is fun, and he is full of random and historical tidbits about the city. If you’re ever in the area, you should check it out. Pretty cheap at 6 euros (you throw the money in his hat at the end, hehehe).

One story I particularly enjoyed involved the German occupation of Rothenburg near the end of World War II. The soldiers stationed there were ordered to fight to the death, and the Allies bombed the town, destroying large chunks. Knowing they would not give up the town, the Allied General ordered its total destruction. Luckily, the U.S. Assistant Secretary to War John McCloy, called off the general. The reason? McCloy’s mother had visited Rothenburg as a young woman and loved it so much, she brought home a painting of the town, a painting McCloy grew up with in the family home. On the German side, the Officer in Charge decided to commit treason and turned over the city without a fight. To rebuild, Rothenburg put out an SOS to the world. Since the end of WWII, people have been able to buy one meter spaces along the city ramparts, and we saw bricks from private citizens and companies alike spanning the decades. Neat.

So here are just a few of the many pics we snapped in town.  Enjoy!

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Autobahn, Baby

Back in the States, whenever I saw a fast, flashy car, I’d think, “What a waste around here. They need to go to Montana or the Autobahn.” Now, I’ve never driven the former, but I couldn’t have guessed how accurate I was about the latter.

Rick Steves described German drivers as frustrated race car drivers. Again, accurate. Especially when there are more than two lanes on one side, unless you are willing to go much faster than 140km/h (yes, 87mph), stay the heck out of the left lane! You might be able to pass someone in that lane, but follow “the rules of the road” and *get out immediately* when you are done. Really. We estimated that most of the cars in that lane are easily going 100+. What was most fun was watching these cars fly passed the cop car in the right lane. Yeah, the cops didn’t pursue.

Autobahn, public domain photo by Wikipedia user Doco

Autobahn, public domain photo by Wikipedia user Doco

Thankfully for us, we had a bit of European driving practice in relatively calm Switzerland last week. Don’t get me wrong. When we first arrived in Bern, we thought the Swiss were fast, and they are compared to US drivers. But they have nothing on Autobahn drivers.

We didn’t drive in Italy, and truth be told, I wouldn’t want to. It’s not just that we probably couldn’t get insurance coverage in Italy. Italian drivers are just crazy. Now, it may not seem like it, but I say this with the utmost respect and reverence for the average Italian driver.

We spent most of our time in Italy on foot or public transport, so we had the opportunity to observe driving in Italy without the stress of really participating. We learned some really interesting things. Like stop lights and/or signs are merely suggestions. Perhaps because of that, we found many intersections with no such lights or signs (Piazza Venezia comes to mind).

And talk about tight spaces. Our apartment in Rome was on a backstreet near the Piazza Nuvona. Now, looking at the narrow street with its random cafe tables fronting tiny restaurants and wandering crowds, you’d think it’d be small for a scooter…

Near our Rome apartment, pic by Redang on VirtualTourist

Near our Rome apartment sans restaurant tables, pic by Redang on VirtualTourist

And it is, but somehow, cars and delivery trucks and emergency vehicles manage to navigate just fine, sometimes with the help of a passing stranger.

The symbiotic relationship between drivers and pedestrians is also an interesting phenomenon. Romans have no fear of stepping out into the chaotic streets, and the drivers operate accordingly. They don’t necessarily slow down (as I witnessed from the front seat of a city van), but no one was hurt. Close but no accidents. Another observation: Italian drivers don’t seem to get upset about any of it. In all of that chaos, we don’t remember hearing any car horns in Rome. The bus drivers’ expressions don’t change when a jaywalker darts out front. Amazing.

So Germans seem to be the fastest. But I believe Italians are the most versatile and, arguably, the best anywhere. Well, from the places I’ve seen thus far. What have you.

…Oooohhh…so that’s why it’s so green around here…

Okay, so when we began exploring the idea of visiting Switzerland, we knew that it would be pricey – like over 250 euro per night for a basic hotel over 100 euros per night for a crappy hostel where tales of stolen items abound and easily over 13 euro for a 6-piece nugget meal from the McDonald’s at the train station for two girls who desperately needed to break a brand new 100 Swiss franc note so they could use the McClean at 2 francs each!  So – since we figured that we had a lot of ground to cover, did not have a very firm itinerary, and needed a cheap place to sleep – we’d rent a car  –  two birds, one stone.

It was great in theory and mostly okay in execution.  After a two hour delay at the Bern airport waiting for our car – we were off!  Maylene did a great job driving and I managed to navigate using the multi -country map we found for 17 francs – we spent our time in a four-inch radius.  While there, we stayed at a very nice campground – Lazy Rancho 4 with all the basic facilities and then some.  No fires but at least it had internet that we used to plan our next adventure.


It rained for three of the four days (complete with thunder and lightening) we were there and sleeping in the car was pretty darn cold even with all of our clothes on but the fourth day was pure glory — absolutely stunning making it all worthwhile! Besides, the rain just reminded us of our Washington camping adventures.

We also met a really kind and generous fellow camper.  Walti has lived at the Lazy Rancho for twenty years — or at least that’s what we think he said.  He first approached us on our first morning at the Ranch.  We had just finished showering and were getting ready for fruhstuck (breakfast) when Walti approached.  He asked in German if we spoke it – I responded quite cheerfully, No – but Good Morning!  He came back from the store with extra provisions and invited us to breakfast in his camper – a really cozy place.  We were surprised but decided to take him up on the offer.  He had a full breakfast spread out for us and we attempted to talk about our families over eggs and bread.  His wife passed away about a year ago and I know that he still misses her a lot – his descriptions of “Mein Frau” were just heart-breaking.  We each understood about 25% of what the other said, but the message came across loud and clear — we enjoyed each other’s company and enjoyed the time we had together (even while eating under the trophies of his hunting accomplishments).  It was such an amazing and moving experience, that we were so very grateful to have.  He lives in a tremendously “schon” area and his hospitality was overwhelming.

We made it up to Gimmelwald on the last day and found it to be a really amazing and special place too.  The town is tiny – only accessible by lift.  The schoolhouse has two teachers who also run a B&B and 17 students each with their own websites.

Gimmelwald schoolhouse

Gimmelwald schoolhouse

Everyone sold homemade cheese and the livestock and random cats kept us company.  We missed the cows though, they were out in the high pastures- can’t imagine where that might be.

We frolicked and let the thin air get the best of us.  It was a beautiful day and a wonderful town.  We loved it and hope you’ll enjoy the pics we took on our Swiss adventure!

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