During -Covid19 Road trip to Venice

After having been 3 months in an “intelligent lockdown” (government language) we are finally going on the road again. It will be our first trip after the journey through Patagonia. We have our mouth masks packed and are even taking a thermometer with us. It will be interesting to see if and how Europe has changed due to the Corona virus. Normally we never travel in the summer through Europe due to the huge amount of people moving around but we expect this year to be somewhat different in a sense that some of the places we plan to visit will be less crowded.

The idea for this road trip started during the peak of the Covid19 pandemic when I had to be downtown Amsterdam and found a deserted city. Amsterdam usually is packed with tourists but now it was absolutely empty. There were even saw kids playing football on the streets which I had not seen since the seventies. If Amsterdam was empty, so must other overcrowded cities be.

Venice has been on our bucket list for an awful long time. We have been several times to Italy and just last year at the end of the winter we went to Pompeii and Carolina had a wedding in Florence but we never made it to Venice as we always try to avoid as much as we can mass tourism. If we ever want to see Venice without the masses this might be our opportunity.

So a road trip to Venice. We will drive relaxed with stops in Bavaria and southern Austria. It is the journey that matters, not so much the destination.

One question is how our car will be holding up. Similar toour previous trip we will travel with a Land Rover. However, this one let us down terribly a month ago when we got stuck on a Dutch highway and had to be towed away. Not a nice experience and not something we would want repeat in an Italian back alley.

Anyhow, let the adventure start. It will be good to explore new places, meet people and eat and drink unknown food.

June 28, 2020 Nurnberg, Germany

Driving on the German autobahn is always a nice experience. The roads in general are very good and some parts are without speed limits so it is fast. The first consequence of Covid19 was immediately clear, there are hardly any foreigners on the road. The Scandinavians are completely absent, very few French and Belgians and even the Dutch are in short supply. We might have seen three Dutch cars with caravans all day, which for this time of the year is extraordinary. It will give the Germans a reason to smile.

The same absence of foreigners was true while walking around in Nurnberg, we did not hear any non-German spoken on the streets.

Nurnberg is a town with a mixed reputation as it played a dark role during the years leading up to WW2. The Nazi party held many mass meetings and also some of the most racist laws from that era are named after this town. A half finished congress hall from just before WW2 is a strange reminder of the weirdness that was going on in this part of the world. It was weird to come up with the idea to start building it, possibly it is even absurder that it still stands, maybe as a signal to future leaders? From the outside it is in a way beautiful but the inside is a mess.

Another example of the pre-WW2 era is the Nazi party rally ground or Zeppelinfield. Most buildings have been demolished but the grandstand from which the masses were indoctrinated, still stands

Nurnberg is much more than its dark past. It is a pretty town, some say it is the nicest town in Germany. The Altstadt is the historic part of the city, many beautiful buildings, churches and old city walls. It is fun to walk around.

But the best part of town is yet to come…..a restaurant that is preparing Bratwurst since 1419. Yes 1419!!! That is many years before Columbus sailed to the Americas. You can imagine, these bratwurst are made to perfection. Just this dish is enough reason to visit Nurnberg.

The next morning we walked through town to have a look at the castle which stands on top of a hill at the edge of the Altstadt. Beautiful walk, whereby we met with the statue of Albrecht Durer, the 15th century painting. Great statue but he was standing on a rather unfashionable place. Nurnberg’s most famous son deserves a better place. Maybe a suggestion to change Durer’s statue with the strange fountain that stands close to the Lorenz kirche.

June 29 and 30, 2020 Austria

We have changed scenery and settled in to a small town close to Villach in Southern Austria. High Alps and blue lakes. One of the reasons of spending some time in Carinthia is that we wanted to see the place were my parents have spent many holidays some 30 – 40 years ago.

In the morning we went to St Oswald and took the cablecar up to the top of the mountain. Although we lost our way several times, we had a wonderful two hour walk. The mountain was almost empty and the weather was beautiful. Some of the up-hill hiking was quite tough but that could have been because we went off road.

Of course at the end of the walk we rewarded ourselves with some nice Austrian Goulashsuppe, a Schnitzel and a nice piece of Schwarzwalderkirsch torte, Austrian style.

In the afternoon we went to see the holiday home were my parents used to stay. Lovely place, lovely location bordering the Millståttersee but very difficult to reach by car. I admire my dad even more now that I know that he drove his old Peugeot 504 up the mountain with three noisy girls in the back seats and a wife giving him continuous advice. The last time the road to this hotel was maintained was probably in the days of emperor Franz Jozef.

July 1 to 3, Venice, Italy

Venice is planned to be the highlight of this trip. Neither of the two of us has ever been, we have been avoiding it due to over-tourism. Covid19 has changed everything and this early summer could be our once in a life time opportunity to see Venice without the tens of thousands of daily tourists. Of course we worry a bit about the virus but so far everybody has behaved very responsibly and respectfully.

Happily, Italy has not changed. It is still a bit chaotic. The water boat system is our first introduction to Venice. Due to the pandemic and the lack of tourists, some of the routes had been adjusted. Unfortunately, information as to the changes were nowhere to be found. In stead of a 15 minute single boat ride it took us 3 different boats and 90 minutes to arrive at yet the wrong water bus station. On the bright side, we got a great view from Venice from the water.

After we settled in our B&B in Venetian style we hit the streets to wander around. Of course we first needed to see the San Marco square and to check out if Napoleon was right when he said that the San Marco square is the most beautiful reception room in all Europe. Napoleon was right, it is a spectaculair square and we got it almost completely to ourselves. It was a magical experience. The San Marco is so photogenic that you can make amazing pictures.

It is sad for Venice and the Venetians that the city is so empty bu, to be honest, we loved it. To freely move around the city and be able to make lots of pictures without having to worry that someone stands in your way is a blessing.

We needed to see all the highlights of the city which includes the Rialto bridge and the Ponte dei Sospiri.

The best part of Venice is just walking around and exploring. The city is so different from what we are used to. Everywhere small canals, old churches and lovely squares. We walked all day and must have taken at least a hundred pictures. Venice is also interesting because there are no cars, no motors and no bicycles. You either walk or go by boat.

Any Italian town on the sea must offer good food. One of Venice most well known dishes is called Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia, basically a black spaghetti. The black coming from the squid’s ink. It does not look all that great but it tastes well although Carolina wants me to add “not my cup of tea”.

While preparing this trip we worried about Covid19 in Italy. Bergamo was hard hit and it is not that far away from Venice. After spending a few days in Venice one can only conclude that all the restaurants, our B&B and the shops had each made its own preparations to battle the virus. The Italian population, both people working in Venice and local tourists adhered to the new rules. Sometimes it may be a bit uncomfortable to wear a mouth mask but it gave us great confidence that we were in control and healthy.

Italy has many beautiful towns; Rome, Napoli, Florence to name a few. Venice, however tops the list. What a fantastic city, such a joy to visit.

July 3 – 6, 2020 Dolomites and Tirol

With pain in our hearts we left Venice. We both enjoyed the city a lot and know that if we would ever return it most likely will be overrun with tourists again. We feel so blessed that we had the opportunity to see it with beautiful weather and with few non Italians.

The Dolomites are basically a stop on our way home. We took the mountain road to Predazzo and thus avoided the area around Bergamo which suffered so much recently. It also gave us the opportunity to take a hike high up in the Dolomites. Very pretty landscape.

Carolina went back to her youth during the hike. Chile in the seventies was locked up and all they knew about “socialist” Europe were tv movies like Heidi. So when we met a herd of cows with bells around their neck, she got goose bumps.

Of course we couldn’t leave Italy without drinking a good bottle of Prosecco.

The next day we had a relatively short trip to Tirol, Austria. We checked in to our hotel which was like a ghost hotel. Nobody around. We needed to check in at a neighboring hotel which is also where we will have breakfast. Our hotel is absolutely empty. Also tourism in Austria is apparently hit hard with Covid19 but in Tirol (other then our earlier stay in Carinthia) they pretend that things are well. No mouth masks and also little social distancing. It does not feel right. Luckily we only had a hike around the Zugspitze planned and we will leave the following morning.

The hike was beautiful, we have been so lucky with the weather. While we walked up the mountain my heart beat went straight up to 141 which was kind of rough. Once on top of the ridge however, we did get rewarded with excellent views.

On our way north we of course had to stop at the fairytale castle of Schloss Neuschwanstein. So far we only knew this place through puzzles. It was another steep hike up a mountain but we got something in return.

July 6 and 7, 2020 in Trier, Germany

Our last stop on this trip is in the German city Trier. This town is Germany’s oldest city and was established by the Romans. It still has some Roman remains whereby especially Porta Nigra is very impressive, it was built in the 170 AC. I can not think of any building in our home countries (Chile and Holland) that dates from this era. The Porta Nigra is huge and shows that Trier must have been an important town for the Romans

Of course Trier also has the traditional German buildings , including a Dom on its main square. Some of these buildings have been transformed in restaurants and wine-stubes. We can confirm that there is nothing wrong with the German Pinot Noire, it is quite enjoyable.

Finally, like Nurnberg also Trier is honoring it most famous son with a statue. Although in general I do not like statues all that much and many statues of controversial people are being torn down lately, this one still stands proud. And the man deserved this: Karl Marx

Covid 19

A final remark over Covid 19 and our experience during the past ten days. In general, most people behaved very respectful and restaurants and hotels had all taken precautions. There was only one moment during the whole trip when we felt a bit awkward which was during a breakfast in an Austrian hotel when too many people had gathered in a relatively small area. The absence of crowds in especially Venice but also at Schloss Neuschwanstein was helpful and made us, middle aged people, feel comfortable. It was great to have the opportunity to make a road trip in Europe without being stuck in crowds. Venice was absolutely spectacular and one would wish that everybody would have the opportunity to see the San Marco square in all its glory

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