Mantova and Lake Garda

Monday20th April 2015, Peschiera, Lake Garda
Today we dedicated to visiting Mantua, or Mantova to give it its proper name. It is around 25 miles from Lake Garda and we had the choice of taking the train to Verona and changing or finding a bus. This seemed the best plan. Discovering a bus should pass through the centre of Peschiera we arrived in good time. A friendly lady was waiting for the same bus and we developed a sort of pigeon Italian which worked fairly well. Her friend joined her and they both checked the timetable for us and assured us that was the bus we needed. Fifteen minutes after it should have arrived there was still no sign of it. Soon a group of five ladies were gathered around exclaiming and gesticulating. The bus wasn’t running after all! What they, and we, understood to mean that it ran every school day actually meant that it ran every non-school day! Italia!

So we had another hour to waste until the next one – if it ran! By this time all the ferries had left port so we couldn’t change our minds and go for a boat trip instead.

Ferry jetty, Peschiera

It did give us time though to discover how to buy bus tickets which turned out to be much cheaper from the newsagent than paying on the bus. Eventually we were on our way and enjoying a very pleasant ride through undulating countryside of flowery fields, green woods and vivid blue skies. The soil was the colour of cinnamon and dark green, cigar-shaped cypress trees thrust up into the vivid, cloudless blue Italian sky. There were streams and irrigation canals for keeping the crops watered. Our route ran beside the river Mincio which leaves Lake Garda just by our campsite and flows around Mantova where it widens into a series of lakes, before joining the river Po. Tractors moved slowly along ahead of us. Passengers alighted as they reached their villages and soon we were the only passengers, travelling to Mantova in an air conditioned coach intended for fifty! In one village we had to wait while the owner of a car, parked blocking the road, finished his coffee and responded to the bus driver’s hoot.

An hour or so later we alighted in Mantova. While it is a smart modern town on the outside, within the historic centre it is a delightful gem of a place full of cobbled streets, mediaeval and renaissance houses, shady arcades and sunny piazzas, courtyards and pretty gardens where mauve wisteria hangs from balconies and olive trees offer dignity and shade.

We stopped for a sandwich and coffee in the corner of the main square, the Piazza Sordello. This has retained its mediaeval atmosphere with the 13th century Palazzo Bonacolsi to the west side. Beside it is the 18th century Palazzo Vescovile. At the north end stands the cathedral while the oldest buildings of the ducal palace and the crenellated Palazzo del Capitano are at the east end.

Duomo on the Piazza Sordello, Mantova

Palazzo Bonacolsi on the Piazza Sordello, Mantova

Courtyards and piazzas interlinked and we wandered from one to the next admiring the splendours of a little town of only around fifty thousand inhabitants. In some were cafes, others were empty, basking in the afternoon sunshine.

Empty piazza in the afternoon sun, Mantova

Eventually we found our way out to discover we were on the banks of yet another huge lake and outside the city walls. Here we found the other side of the ducal castle with its moat.

Ducal Palace and moat, Mantova

Ducal Palace, Mantova

In the courtyard of the Ducal Palace, Mantova

We walked a short distance beside the lake before turning back into the city and seeking out the Academy, now a centre for the study of the works of Virgil. It also houses the Academic Theatre where Mozart once played at the age of thirteen. The Virgil library holds rare editions of the writer’s works. Personally I was not disappointed to find it closed. Ian however lamented that he couldn’t drool over the dusty tomes and photograph their title pages. To add to his dismay even the public library was closed (it’s Monday) and it is reputed to have an excellent collection of rare items.

Academy with a statue of Virgil, Mantova

Public library collections, Mantova

I cheered him up by finding him a very smart manhole cover complete with a coat of arms to photograph and dragged him off for a beer under a shady arcade.

Returning to the bus station we found the university. Its main disciplines appear to be engineering, medicine and surgery. Also on our way to the station we stopped to buy something for supper. At the checkout the lady told us we’d have to use the self-service machines as she was busy checking the till. Horror! We find then complex enough in England but in Italy with an electronic voice nagging us in Italian and rejecting half our purchases!!! Eventually another staff member came to help these English fools. He passed through the straightforward bits that we could have done ourselves but because a couple of items were reduced as near their sell by date, the machine rejected them. He then consulted with a colleague and declared we couldn’t have the reduced items! Pointless to protest. He was adamant. Either we are missing something in translation (possible) or we must be in Italy! Both items were within their date but one had only had two days to go. We were allowed to buy the tagliatelli with nearly a week to go so that was supper sorted. We ate it and guess what, we are still here! Italia!

Oh, I nearly forgot... We needed some stamps for postcards to family who don’t have access to the internet. Passing the main post office we popped in for four stamps for within the EU. Having queued to be served we were sent out of the building and round the corner to another part of the post office that actually sold stamps! Here we had to take a number, 223, then take a seat and wait. Well 219 was already being served so it couldn’t be too long could it? Some thirty minutes later we emerged successfully clutching our stamps. Italia!

Our journey home was uneventful and very pleasant. Arriving back in Peschiera we went to buy some postcards to go with the stamps. We were asked if we’d like stamps to go with our cards! Italia!

Wednesday 22nd April 2015, Somewhere high up in the mountains of the Dolomites near Trento
Ian has left me on this magnificent campsite while he’s gone for a walk up through the woods to find the lake that is supposed to be there. I set off with him but soon realised that I still have a way to go before I count as well again, so returned to Modestine, a view of the snowy, rugged mountains that surround us and a gentle breeze. Having slept I can now catch up on the blog that I have been too weary to deal with before now.

Yesterday we left the campsite beside Lake Garda with no great regret, but nearly had to take our rubbish with us! Having packed up and sorted the final bits into several biodegradable plastic bags that could have still done useful service if we’d been able to keep them, we took our collection of rubbish bags down to the disposal area to find it locked by a high wire fence displaying a notice informing us it was vietato to dispose of our rubbish except between 8 and 9am! We saw red and hurled the bags over the top where they burst open, scattering our chickpea tin, carrot peelings and biscuit wrappers across the immaculate yard. We scarpered, quite expecting to be arrested when we paid. It was with some satisfaction that Ian returned the blue armbands unused, explaining we’d loved it so very much on the site we didn’t need to leave it once during our three days stay! I think they might have believed him. Still, it had served its purpose but how horrid for holiday makers. As they were all German we can only conclude they must appreciate gratuitous bullying!

It must be all part of the Lake Garda experience as the next site, between Bardolino and Garda, handed us green armbands with instructions to wear then at all times. We returned them unused as well! It was though an altogether better campsite and we were allowed to park however we wanted on our pitch! Showers were so small you couldn’t take even a towel in with you. We sneaked into the disabled ones last night which meant we were up bright and clean by 7.30 this morning while everyone else was still fast asleep.

Having walked along the shore to Bardolino yesterday, where we licked ice creams on the steps of the church while waiting for the pharmacy to open and sell me some more throat tablets, we decided this morning that we’d take an early morning walk to Garda while it was still cool and quiet.

Sunshine in Bardolino

Sunshine in Bardolino

It was delightful. We saw a few early joggers but arrived in Garda to find staff busy preparing for the crowds soon to arrive. One, not yet open, agreed to provide us with coffee and, once they’d finished cooking, with hot croissants too. Garda seems a very pleasant little place where every sign is written up in both Italian and German. Bilingual prohibition notices - vietato AND verboten!!

Early morning on Lake Garda

Arriving in Garda before people were awake

It was still only 10am when we returned to Modestine. As we’d seen both places of interest in the area we decided to move on and a few minutes later we were driving along the shoreline, passing through Garda on our way to the northern end of the lake. Lake Garda is huge! We drove for ages, through tiny towns, past hotels, guest houses and campsites. Each had their own parking but otherwise there was nowhere to stop. The mountains gradually close is along the lakeside and before long we were passing through tunnels cut in the rock. There are no artificial beaches this far up the lake and it is less commercialised with the water lapping beside the road.

Northern end of Lake Garda

Coming out of one of the tunnels, Lake Garda

Northern end of Lake Garda