Intermission II - Turkey to Italy
Four Countries in a day - Tuesday, June 25
Tuesday the 25th was a full travel day for us. Having just finished a fine visit to Istanbul, Turkey, we had to get ourselves to a medieval town at the northern end of a lake in the foothills of the Alps of Northern Italy. This process would require several steps.
The first step was to get ourselves out of the heart of downtown Old Istanbul and to the Sabiha Gökçen Airport - the smaller and unfortunately farther away of Istanbul's two international airports. To ensure we did not have any unforeseen circumstances get in the way of arriving on time, we pre-hired a shuttle taxi the night before to take us, bright and early, from the hotel to the airport. The streets seemed deserted enough at 6:30am, and we hoped it would stay that way until well out of the downtown.
The drive went smoothly, and while there were a few pockets of slow traffic, we arrived at the airport well in advance of our flight. We killed some time at an in-airport cafe, spending the last few of our Turkish New Liras.
Our Pegasus Airlines flight left on time, and soon we were winging our way back west towards Germany, arriving shortly after 1pm.
Next we were off to the car rental counters to pick up the vehicle we would be renting for this next phase of our trip. I had made an online rental with Dollar, which had presented me with a very attractive rate for an 8-passenger Volkswagen van. We were already six travelers with a fair bit of luggage, and we foresaw situations in Italy where we may have required up to eight seats. Hence, the 8-person vehicle reservation.
Autobahning south from Stuttgart
This was to be my first (and amazingly, not the last) encounter with Dollar's poor customer service - or perhaps I should say Buchbinder, the German company that appears to contract out car rentals for Dollar in Germany. In any case, the problem was this - we did not receive an 8-passenger vehicle, as advertised in the online rental. Instead, we got a 7-passenger van. Eight people at once was not going to be possible. Secondly, the advertised price implied that it was an all-in cost, but it turned out at the rental desk not to be the case, and another hundred or two dollars got tacked onto the price. Major thumbs down - I did not have either of these problems with Sixt rental company, ten days earlier.
Still, one has to play with the hand one is dealt, so we took the 7-passenger Volkswagen Sharan and headed south. First stop was Miriam's home town of Neiderstotzingen, where we would be picking up, among other things, some of our hiking and climbing gear that we had left behind. Northern Italy was the land of Via Ferrata, and we planned to climb a couple of them. With the Sharan packed to the gills with us and our stuff, we headed off for points south.
Through the Brenner Pass
Our drive south went swiftly and without incident. We routed south of Munich through Austria, down past Innsbruck and then up and over the Brenner Pass, where we crossed into Italy.
We were planning to stay in Northern Italy for the next five days, returning back to Germany on the Sunday. During this entire time, we would be basing ourselves out of the town of Riva del Garda, on the north shore of Italy's Lake Garda. There, I had rented a 6-person apartment in the old medieval section of town. It was a place I had rented from before, back in 2010
when we were in Europe for Asmir and Miriam's wedding.
In a chance aligning of plans, our good friends Luke and Sophie (along with daughter Kate) were also visiting northern Italy pretty much at the same time we were. They had therefore arranged to rent an apartment in Riva as well, and we would all spend the next several days exploring the region together.
Gates of Riva
By the time we pulled off the Autostrada at Rovereto and onto the two-lane road that led to Lake Garda, it was nearing 8:30pm. We stopped briefly at the address Luke and Sophie had given us, hoping to make a quick sync-up before heading off to our own apartment. By extremely fortunate timing, they pulled into the laneway leading to their apartment literally minutes after we did. We agreed to meet in the downtown for a late pizza after all of us had settled in.
A few minutes later we were temporarily parked in front of one of Riva's old Medieval gates. We were staying at the Appartamenti Leon D'Oro - a very quaint but clean set of apartments in an old building in the heart of Old Riva. We had told Caterina - the proprietor of the apartments - that we would arrive by 7pm or so (typically she waits by the city gates to escort us in, as the apartments are in a pedestrian-only zone of the town). Unfortunately, because of my miscalculations, she had already gone home, and I was forced to give her a ring on her cellphone. When she arrived to let us in (and to give me the access to the garage), I gave her my profuse apologies.
Tired but hungry, we headed down into the narrow streets of Riva. Just a few metres away was the Pizzeria Bella Napoli - a place we've used before as a late-night quick pizza stop. We ordered several very large and very satisfying misshappen pizzas. Luke and Sophie (and Kate) arrived as we were finishing our meal, and we spent a few final minutes doing introductions and discussing communications strategies (apparently the wi-fi network in Luke and Sophie's apartment wasn't all that great).