THE GROUSE RETURNS
For the last week my wife and I have been on holiday in Northern Italy, at Fai Della Paganella. I wrote about a similar (virtually identical) holiday last year, so I'd better make this account different. But first, let me explain the title, an explanation which should rightly come towards the end but I may well forget, and that would never do.
It's simple, really. Famous Grouse is a renowned brand of Scotch Whisky and when we bought a few bottles of wine at what we fondly refer to as our off-licence, a large booze outlet near Riva del Garda, it was packed for us in a used Famous Grouse box and we brought it home with us â€“ hence the Grouse Returns, if not exactly to Scotland, to the UK.
And the bit about us enjoying a similar holiday last year. When I was a lad I became virtually addicted to the street games seasons â€“ conkers, marbles, cigarette cards, spinning tops â€“ and looked forward to them coming in their proper order. I loved revisiting pleasures from last year and the year before, and now I'm an elderly man with one foot in the grave I love returning to holiday resorts where I've already had a damned fine time. In particular, I love the mountains, the villages, the architecture, the rivers, the whole thing, of the area of the world we've just returned from. I love, in fact, Northern Italy, Austria, that part of creation. It's not just the mountains, but they play an enormous part in it. It's the acres of vineyards, the, the wonderful buildings with their architecture that so perfectly matches their environment, the people (especially the generous family hoteliers), the way I feel inside myself when I can saunter around with my wife's hand in one of mine and a glass of something delicious in the other. It's a combination of happinesses!
And, talking of my wife, she feels the same.
For those who are unaware, Fai Della Paganella is high up in the Dolomites, and if you're lucky you can find a point from which you can look down on the town of Trento. It's like a toy-town â€“ check my report last year which you'll find by clicking here
This time we travelled with the same coach company (with a different coach, about which more later), had the same driver and went to the same hotel in Italy. It is, of course, Northern Italy, and the incredible remnants of what must have been a titanic piece of earth moving when the tectonic plates deep down in our planet moved and crashed and ground together countless thousand of years ago. That's the mountains, from their rugged skirts to snow-capped peaks, and they harbour supreme beauty.
You can check back on my comments of last September, or you can just look at the following images and the observations you might find interesting. Pictures tell it all, don't you think?
One of the early signs you might be nearing mountains: a tunnel that seems to go on for ever.
A working weaterwheel which is a feature of a beautiful motorway service station in Austria.
A perfect marriage of the landscape with architecture.
This looks to me like a wild strawberry. It was forcing its way between shattered rocks and almost begged to be photographed.
Two of our companions, in their eighties and proof that you're never too old for adventures
Dorothy admiring the view down below.
The river running through the town of Merano.
Fausto, the owner of the Hotel Paganella giving us a wine-tasting. He makes his own wines and doesn't sell them but likes to share them. A generous man.
The waitress dispensing Fausto's wine. I have never seen such a fast-moving young woman in my life, and she always went about her duties with a lovely smile and with the words "you're welcome" tumbling from her lips.
One of the sailing boats on Lake Garda, where we visited for a day. We took the "Speedy Gonzales" boat to the nearby town of Limone, and it was from that boat that I snapped this picture.
A lemon tree, after which Limone was named.
This is a fascinating custom. The vessel from which Dorothy is drinking has seven spouts and is carved from a single block of wood. It contains a fascinating mix of drinks, including Grappa (which is almost toxic) and is passed around a jolly party like ours. This picture shows Dorothy getting sozzled.
On the first leg of our return journey we called at Rheinfalls, in Northern Switzerland.
Rheinfalls in the largest waterfall in Europe and a small outlet of it drives this waterwheel. Two waterwheels inÂ one post. Doies that tell you something about me?
A rainbow over the half-way home overnight hotel. Was this an omen of things to come? And despite its size this hotel did not open either bar or restaurant at weekends. And we were there on Sunday....
The return journey started well, but it ended in confusion. We overnighted in Strasbourg (just inside France but within spitting distance of the German border), and we were all promptly on the almost brand new coach, the driver set off down the hotel's drive and onto the street when huge quantities of smoke started belching out of the exhaust. He returned to the hotel's car-park, made a few calls and a mechanic came out to examine our smoke. He used a dim torch and his fingers, and spent several hours massaging and fiddling with a pipe he'd taken off part of the engine before declaring the coach shouldn't be used, or the warranty would be voided. It was the responsibility of the German manufacturers of the coach to ensure we got back to England, but they failed miserably because, a voice on the driver's phone said, they couldn't find the manager of any coach company anywhere. I wonder how hard they looked? There must surely have been quite a few companies with coaches within, say, 25 km of where we were on the outskirts of Strasbourg, either in France or in Germany, yet despite the famed Teutonic efficiency of the German peoples nothing appeared. In the end we were rescued by a British coach that had to make the journey from Maidstone in Kent to Strasbourg, hundreds of kilometres. It arrived in the wee small hours and we were rescued. Our rescuers were a company called Buzzlines and I reckon they deserve a mention here.
The MAN (that's the name of the company that made that engine) at work with his dim torch and, maybe nimble, fingers...
That's it, then. Enjoy the pictures, cackle at our return problems and come back when I report on an Austrian trip in a few weeks' time. It's hard work being retired!
Â© Peter Rogerson 09.05.12