Friday, 31 July, 2015 – Day 6 – Innsbruck Area – Venice Area, Italy – (Day 52)

Friday, 31 July 2015 – Day 6 – Innsbruck Area – Venice Area, Italy (244 miles/390 Kms) – Day 52

We had an early breakfast and left our lovely hotel and we were on the road by 7.30 via the Tyolean Alps over the Brenner Pass.

Brenner Pass

,  Brenner Pass: Europabrücke [Credit: Ralf Pfeifer]mountain pass, one of the lowest (4,511 feet [1,375 m]) and most important through the main chain of the Alps on the Austrian-Italian border. Brenner Pass has been one of the main entrances to Italy in the Eastern Alps in Germany and the Po River valley of Italy. Since the 14th century it has been one of Europe’s great trade routes. A carriage road (built 1772) and a railway (completed 1867) climb steeply from Innsbruck through the Wipp Valley up to the Brenner Pass and then descend through the Isarco and Adige river valleys to Verona. The modern Brenner Highway (completed early 1970s) links Kufstein, Austria, with Modena, Italy; the Wipp Valley is spanned by the Europabrücke (“Bridge of Europe”).

More spectacular scenery – long high bridges, pine forests, valleys down below, very Rocky Mountains and lots of little waterfalls.  We got to Italy at 8.05.  Italy has a population of 61 million. In 5000 BC the Romans were the first to build stone houses.  We heard about two brothers Romulus and Remus who were reared by a she wolf.  Julius Caesar being killed, the Roman Calendar where February was the twelfth month, the alphabet and coins used.  Roads also built out of stone and building experts of bridges and canals.

Names known to come from Italy – Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Mussolini.

The mountains changed colour from grey to white – reminded me of the White Cliffs of Dover. These were the Dolomites  – a mountain range located in northeastern Italy. We were in the smaller group called Piccole Dolomiti (Little Dolomites) located between the provinces of Trentino, Verona and Vicenza. In August 2009, the Dolomites were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The scenery here was remarkable. We passed through the village of Modena and is noted for coffee, wines, tiramisu, penna cotta and cheeses and balsamic vinegar.  Many terraced gardens, villages way up high up the sides of the mountains, streams, rivers, tunnels and waterfalls.

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We had a couple of stops near Verona – names mentioned around this area were Romeo and Juliet,   The House of Juliet is a small genuine medieval palace; a balcony was added in the 1930s, inspired by Shakespeare’s drama. The House of Romeo is a medieval complex, greatly transformed in later periods, and relatively little remains from the original building.

There were lots of dams and weirs and the roadside fences very changeable and had glasses in between so you could see the scenery. Around this area there were lots of fruit trees. We had lunch stop and had a professional group photo taken. This is just a few of the group taken on my Ipad.

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We travelled on to the unique floating city of Venice. Names mentioned here were Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, an 18th Century figure who is known for his archetypal reputation as a seducer of women. Vivaldi being the son of a violinist started playing the violin himself early in his life. In 1703 he became priest and in 1716 the director of a conservatory of the church in Venice. Being a famous violinist he gave concerts all over Europe also composing a lot of violin concerts and other string works.  Marco Polo was born between September 15 and 16, 1254, in Venice and was an Italian merchant traveller whose travels are recorded in the Book of the Marvels of the World, also known as The Travels of Marco Polo, c. 1300), a book that introduced Europeans to Central Asia and China.

Venice (Venezia) is a city in northeastern Italy sited on a group of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges. It is located in the marshy Venetian lagoon which stretches along the shoreline, between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. Venice is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artwork. The city in its entirety is listed as a World Heritage Site, along with its lagoon.

We boarded a boat that took us in to the centre. We passed he island of La Guidecca and there were many spectacular buildings and one that stood out was the Redentore church

We visited the world wide known MURANO glassworks and watched the glassblowers show off their ability to produce such beautiful colourful glassware. The showroom was just an array of colour with all the spectacular glassware.

Opened my wallet here and had this lovely set of six glass and decanter sent home. Hope it arrives safely.

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After the wonderful Murano showrooms, we went onto St Mark’s Square and is dominated by the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. The church burned down in 976 during an uprising. It was rebuilt twice, the last time in 1063. At that time the power of the Venetian Republic had risen dramatically, and the new basilica, consecrated in 1094, would come to symbolize the republic’s growing power and wealth. This basilica is the one we see today. It was the doge’s private chapel until 1807, when it became the city’s cathedral.

Considered one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture in the world, the Basilica di San Marco is known for its opulent design and gilded interior mosaics, and nicknamed Chiesa d’Oro, ”

Its design mixes eastern and western building styles in a unique way. The original St. Mark’s Church was situated inside the complex of the Doge’s Palace and was constructed in 828. The basilica has a separate campanile– bell tower – that stands 98.6 meters tall (323 ft) and is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Originally built in the ninth century, the current version was rebuilt in 1912 after the original tower collapsed in 1902.

The other dominant building around St. Mark’s Square is the Doge’s Palace .  which is a palace built in Venetian Gothic style, and one of the main landmarks of the city of Venice in northern Italy. The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Republic of Venice, opening as a museum in 1923. Today, it is one of the 11 museums run by the Fondazione Musei Civil di Venezie. COACH TOUR 2015 (197)

 We then went to board a gondola. The gondola is a traditional, flat-bottomed Venetian rowing boat well suited to the conditions of the Venetian lagoon. The rowing oar, which is not fastened to the hull, is used in a sculling manner, also acting as the rudder. are also used in special regattas (rowing races) held amongst gondolier.  They  In modern times the iconic boats still have a role in public transport in the city, serving as “traghetti” (ferries) over the Grand Canal. Their primary role today, however, is to carry tourists.

The gondola that takes 6 people is propelled by a person (the gondolier/troubador) who stands facing the bow and rows with a forward stroke, followed by a compensating backward stroke. The oar rests in an elaborately carved wooden rest (“forcola”) shaped to project from the side of the craft so as to allow the slight drag of each return stroke to pull the bow back to its forward course.  There are just over four hundred in active service today, virtually all of them used for hire by tourists.

We passed the Santa Maria della Salute on the Grand Canal and the Palazzo Gussoni Grimani – 16th century palace. We could see the bell tower from the Grand Canal and many other buildings. We glided under the Bridge of Sigh as we went along the narrower canals back to where we boarded the gondola.  While we were on the gondola we were serenaded by the troubadour.



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It was an enjoyable experience gliding along the canals.
 We had some spare time so walked along the Tattere which was built in 1519 and first used as a landing dock for the delivery of timber used to construct ships and buildings, which gave the quay the name Zattere, Italian for raft. The timber gone, the Zattere today is a spacious long waterfront promenade located in the Dorsoduro district.
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We then cruised back to join our coach and left Venice about 6.30 for an hours drive to our accommodation and dinner at the Poppi Hotel.

More drinks and chatting before going to bed quite late.

Was another packed day of such interesting venues. Venice is a fascinating city with all the buildings on the edge of the water.

The Murano Glassworks certainly had a wonderful showroom and yes, I am quite a few dollars out of pocket, but couldn’t resist my purchase.

Thursday, 30 July 2015 – Day 5 – Rhineland Area – Innsbruck Area, Austria (Day 51)

Thursday, 30 July 2015 – Day 5 – Rhineland Area – Innsbruck, Austria (366 miles/585 Kms)  – (Day 51)

Another early start and we had a scenic drive along the Rhine – Germany’s third longest river. It starts in the Swiss alps and ends in Rotterdam – 1320 Kms.  12,000 boats use this river. We arrived at the start of a River Cruise and boarded the cruise ship, the “Asbach” in the township of Kampbornhofen on the right shore of the Rhine.

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It was a beautiful sunny day so we made our way to the upper deck.  In the background were the Castle Liebenstein, the highest castle in the Middle Rhine, the Castle Sterrenbery and St Nickolaus church.  At Bad Salzig the Church of St Aegidius stood out.   

Along the way, we passed many medieval castles, towns and towers, old historic castle ruins and small medieval palaces.  There were many vineyards growing up the side of the mountains in terraces and is a large wine industry with 87% of the grapes  being made into Reisling. The scenery was just breathtaking.

We saw the round turret of the 14th century Maus Castle.  Further along we saw the magnificent Rheinfels Castle. It is a castle ruin located above the left (west) bank of the Rhine in Sankt Goar, Germany. looming almost on top of the sleepy little town. This 13th Century castle was probably the most popular among visitors to the Rhine Gorge. It was started in 1245 by Count Diether V of Katzenelnbogen. After expansions, it was the largest fortress in the Middle Rhein Valley between Koblenz and Mainz.


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                   Wayne, Brenda, Lou and on the right Gay, Alyssa and Wayne –                                                     fabulous tour companions – a big thankyou !!                                                                                   

Meanwhile across the river, privately held Burg Katz  (Katz Castle) continued its dominance above the town of Sankt Goarhausen. Originally built in the 14th Century, the current castle is mostly a 19th Century reconstruction after its destruction at the hands of Napoleon. This would be another intriguing castle to visit, except it’s not open to tourists.

Next of note was the Loreley Rock. 

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The Loreley  is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine near St. Goarshausen, Germany, which soars some 120 metres above the waterline. It marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea, and is the most famous feature of the Rhine Gorge, a 65 km section of the river between Koblenz and Bingen that was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in June 2002. A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat accidents there.  The Rhine is at this place 25 meters deep and 113 meter wide. Today the ships on the Rhine still help themselves with light signals to warn the oncoming traffic.

The Loreley is a remarkable high rock, made of schist. The rock lies impressively at a very narrow part of the rhinevalley at St. Goar, Rhineland  and Pfalz, at the Taunus mountains.

There are several legends about the Loreley Rock.  One is that Loreley was sitting on the cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair and singing and this attracted many seamen and unwittingly distracted them with her beauty and song, causing them to crash on the rocks.    Nobody paid attention to the dangerous rock in the water. So many boats were destroyed and the swirl (which was actually up to 27 meters deep), grabbed them. But did she really sing her song upon her rock or is she just a legend?

There is another story of an enchanting female associated with the rock. In a poem, the beautiful Loreley betrayed by her sweetheart, is accused of bewitching men and causing their death. Rather than sentence her to death, the bishop consigns her to a nunnery. On the way thereto, accompanied by three knights, she comes to the Loreley rock. She asks permission to climb it and view the Rhine once again. She does so and thinking that she sees her love in the Rhine, falls to her death; the rock still retained an echo of her name afterwards.

So, one does not know the true story but the Loreley Rock is certainly an imposing site.

Our boat turned around not far after the Loreley Rock and we headed towards the township of Oberwesel.

Oberwesel, another attractive town with some remarkably preserved fortifications and towers, most dating from the 14th Century and castles atop treacherous cliffs where the nobles rules and fortified towns along the waters where peasants defending their territory against raids launched from the boats. Sitting right above the town was the former 14th century imperial Castle of Schonburg, one of several castles along the Middle Rhine serving as hotels.   Schönburg castle remained in ruins for 200 years until it was acquired by the German-American Rhinelander family who bought the castle from the town of Oberwesel in the late 19th century, and restored it.  The town council of Oberwesel acquired the castle back from the Rhinelander family in 1950. Since 1957 the Hüttl family have been living at the castle on a long-term lease; they operate a successful hotel and restaurant there. Also we saw the red Gothic Church of Our Lady.

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We joined our coach and followed the Rhine and headed towards the township of Kaub.  We saw Pfalzgrafenstein Castle, a toll castle on the Falkenau island, otherwise known as Pfalz Island in the Rhine river near Kaub, Germany. Known as “the Pfalz,” this former stronghold is famous for its picturesque and unique setting. The keep of this island castle, a pentagonal tower with its point upstream, was erected 1326 to 1327 by King Ludwig the Bavarian. Around the tower, a defensive hexagonal wall was built between 1338 to 1340. In 1477 Pfalzgrafenstein was passed as deposit to the Count of Katzenelnbogen. Later additions were made in 1607 and 1755, consisting of corner turrets, the gun bastion pointing upstream, and the characteristic baroque tower cap.

The castle functioned as a toll-collecting station that was not to be ignored. It worked in concert with Gutenfels Castle and the fortified town of Kaub on the right side of the river. Due to a dangerous cataract on the river’s left, about a kilometer upstream, every vessel would have to use the fairway nearer to the right bank, thus floating downstream between the mighty fortress on the vessel’s left and the town and castle on its right. A chain across the river drawn between those to fortifications forced ships to submit, and uncooperative traders could be kept in the dungeon until a ransom was delivered. The dungeon was a wooden float in the well.

We came to the township of Bacherach and saw the Stahlech Castle. It’s exact date of origin is not known, but it has been proved that the castle was already occupied since the year 1095. For many years, the Castle was a ruin and on 23 June 1926 a youth hostel was built. Starting at the end of 1965 until 20 May 1967, the youth hostel was further constructed on the Castle and is now a very well known youth hostel.


We still followed the Rhine for many miles – many vineyards were along the way. We passed through the townships of Assmannhausen – noted for its lithium spring, spa and a kurhaus (German for “spa house” or “health resort”) and is famed for its red wine made from Pinot noir which resembles red Burgundy wine. Was interested to hear that the heritage-listed former winery Assmanshausen Winery in Queensland, Australia, was named after this region.

The next village we came to was Bingen.  The Mouse Tower (Mäuseturm) is a stone tower on a small island in the Rhine, outside Bingen, Germany. The Romans were the first to build a structure on this site. It  fell and had to be rebuilt many times. Hatto II, the Archbishop of Mainz, restored the tower in 968. Here wewere told a story – The story of how it came to be called the “Mouse Tower” comes from a folk tale. According to this popular, but unsubstantiated, legend Hatto II was a cruel ruler who oppressed and exploited the peasants in his domain. He used the tower as a platform for crossbowmen and demanded tribute from passing ships, firing on their crews if they did not comply. During a famine in 974 the poor had run out of food, but Hatto, having all the grain stored up in his barns, sold it at such high prices that most could not afford it.  The peasants became angry and were planning to rebel, so Hatto devised a cruel trick. He promised to feed the hungry people and told them to go to an empty barn and wait for him to come with food. The peasants were overjoyed and praised Hatto heartily. They made their way to the barn to await his coming. When he arrived with his servants, he ordered the barn’s doors shut and locked, then set the barn on fire and burned the peasants to death, derisively commenting on their death cries with the words “Hear the mice squeak!” When Hatto returned to his castle, he was immediately besieged by an army of mice. He fled the swarm and took a boat across the river to his tower, hoping that the mice could not swim. The mice followed, pouring into the river in their thousands. Many drowned, but even more reached the island, where they ate through the tower’s doors and crawled up to the top floor, where they found Hatto and ate him alive.

They whet ted their teeth against the stones,
And then they picked the Bishop’s bones;
They gnawed the flesh from every limb
For they were sent to punish him!

At about 11.30 were back on the coach and we left the Rhine and travelled south wards along the auto barn- saw more caravans and trucks for many kilometers.  There were very long queues on the other side of the road.  At 2.00 we had a short comfort stop and then continued on until another stop at 5.20 and this would be our last stop in Germany.  Had 132 Kms from 6.00 to travel to Innsbruck.  The Bavarian Alps were now coming into view – rolling green hills, mountains behind lakes. Little villages dotted all along in between smaller hills.

At about 6.25 we crossed the border into Austria.  Some of the well known names to come out of Austria were Verdi and Strauss, Mozart composed the National anthem, the eidelweiss flower and in Salzburg, the Sound of Music, the Vienna Schnitzel, goulash,  croissant just to mention some. Marie Antoinette was born in Vienna on 2 November 1755.

We had a photo stop at Biberweir, Tyrol – beautiful.

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Onwards still to our accommodation at the Hotel Rumerhof.  Once more, after dinner socialised before going to bed in readiness for another early start.

What a fabulous day – first the cruise on the Rhine – saw so many beautiful castles and countryside and then the magical scenery of the mountains and more mountains, the little huts all along the way and the tunnels. Austria is an amazing country from what I have seen.