So it’s been three weeks since our last post, but we have a good excuse: our schedule. We bid farewell to Perugia, traveled around northern Italy, spent four days in Rotterdam, ferried to the UK, and finally arrived at our temporary flat in London. Along the way, reliable internet was hard to find and planning the next leg of our journey took precedent, so we apologize for the delay. Now, without further ado…
Ciao to Perugia
Our last day in Perugia was June 30 and we were certainly sad to leave. The city really was the perfect mix of everything; it was large enough to provide plenty to see and do, without being so large that it felt touristy. The locals didn’t speak enough English that we could get lazy, but just enough to bail us out when needed. Overall, living there for a month was a wonderful experience.
A large part of that was Club Corso, a group of expats from all over that is organized by Dorine, our Perugia landlady. Dorine’s title in Club Corso is President of the World, and she definitely earns it; she was so accommodating to Kiley, Schaefer, and I. When our train schedule ran over upon arrival, she drove out of town to pick us up. She let us use the apartment “burner phone” so we didn’t have to tap into our international minutes. Most of all, she invited us into Club Corso, which provided a great group of people to hang out with every Thursday night, as well as special occasions, like her nautical birthday bash on Lake Trasimeno. We’ll definitely be back to visit our Perugia friends in the future. Ciao for now!
As has become a bit of a theme on this trip, we left Perugia without a solid plan for the next 4.5 days until we were due to fly to Rotterdam. All we knew for sure is that we needed to be at Pisa International Airport for a July 4 flight, so what to do with all that time and a rental car? Well, there was one last historical box that I needed to check: the Battle of Lake Trasimene. Now, I realize that you probably aren’t all crazy ancient history nuts like I am, but this battle was one of the most important of the Punic Wars, which—although they took place over two thousand years ago—shaped the character of the Roman Empire and influenced our modern world more than most people realize. Anyway, nerd rant aside, it was cool, it took place near Perugia, and there is a historical trail with awesome lake views nearby that we could use to burn through an afternoon… so we did that. That night, we took a trip back in time to 2014 by staying in the same Cortona hotel and eating at the same restaurant (it was just as good as we remembered) as we did during our wedding trip.
Channeling that same nostalgia, we harkened back to a city that we were unable to see during our 2014 wedding trip, Lucca. Lucca was a good base for what we wanted to do for the next few days, it was close to both Pisa and excellent hiking in the northern Apennine Mountains. Using her expert hotel-finding skills, Kiley reserved us a lovely bed and breakfast in town for only 36 euro. Lucca is an awesome little city, and perfect for our little troupe: for Schaefer, the historic city center doesn’t have many cars, so he was free to roam a lot without a leash; for Mike, it has perfectly-preserved medieval walls; and for Kiley, it’s got excellent style and wide walking paths atop the walls, a great way to see the whole city. In fact, we enjoyed our night in Lucca so much that we decided to return for another after venturing up to the mountains for a day of hiking…
Abetone is located about 4,500 feet above sea level, on the border of the Italian regions of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. Like most ski towns, the area attracts a much smaller number of mountain bikers and hikers during the offseason. We chose Abetone because of its close proximity to Mt. Cimone, the highest peak in the northern Apennines. Considering the stout legs of our smallest member, our trio didn’t resolve to make it all the way to the peak of Cimone at the outset; however, it ended up being time that dictated the height of our ascent. In all, we spent about six hours hiking about ¾ of the way up the mountain and if Schaefer had his way, we would have gone the full distance—in the dark if necessary. This little dog really is a champ. [Big shout out here to Marguerite and Sue for the new GoPro camera; we were able to capture some awesome photos and videos of our hike!]
During our descent, we had one of the strangest experiences of our trip so far. For over an hour, we heard what appeared to be wind chimes in the distance. As we continued down, the sounds became much louder, so much so that I thought it might be some weird forest cult, or perhaps some local teenagers playing a prank on us hikers. As we neared the source of the sounds, we saw movement in the brush, prompting Kiley to grab Schaefer for fear of a pack of wolves or angry wild boars. But as we rounded the bend, the creatures decided to share the same path; at first it was a few, then dozens… goats! Perhaps over 100, several with bells to make known their position on the slopes. And right on cue, just after we passed the last of the group was a kindly fellow with a large walking stick, cigar, and black herding dog. After briefly contemplating whether we could make a living as Italian mountain farmers, we nonetheless continued our journey down the mountain, to our rental car, eventually to the airport in Pisa and safely to our hotel in Rotterdam.
The Gateway to Europe
Due to a complete prohibition of dogs travelling in the cabins of airlines inbound to the British Isles, we knew that we’d have to travel to London from the European mainland. We don’t have a car to take into the UK, so the Chunnel train and most ferry services were out. The best remaining option short of slingshotting Schaefer coated in bubble wrap from France was walking aboard the Stena Line ferry to Harwich, England from Hoek van Holland, The Netherland—located a short distance from Rotterdam. Thus prompted our Rotterdam journey.
Overall, we enjoyed our time in Rotterdam immensely. The one giant exception to this was immediate upon our arrival at nearly midnight, local time: our hotel room. Now, Kiley and I don’t need much when we travel; we generally spend minimal time in hotel rooms and require no fancy amenities. Thus, we shop at the lower end of the price scale, provided the location is right and the website pictures don’t look like a torture house. The vast majority of the time, this works out great (reference the B&B in Lucca, for example); however, there are always exceptions and our Rotterdam hotel was it—it was awful and nothing as advertised online. Perhaps we will elaborate more in the future (we have enough bloopers and outtakes for at least one full post), but being the eternal optimist I am, we can at least say that it forced us to spend even more time out in Rotterdam…
And enjoyable that time was; Rotterdam is fantastic. Virtually destroyed during World War II, Rotterdam was rebuilt from a blank slate with the future in mind. Following widespread urban renewal starting in the 1990s, it has blossomed into a very livable city that houses the largest port in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Transportation in Rotterdam is great; it has wide and efficiently-designed streets for cars and buses, tram lines that run over nice green space and share surface roads with traffic, as well as separate bike lanes that parallel nearly every road. And somehow, it all works well together—there are separate lights for traffic, bikes, trams, and pedestrians—it appears to an outsider to be well-controlled chaos.
Born from this waltz-like dance of transportation comes our most enduring memory of Rotterdam: suits on bikes. The Dutch are renowned for their reliance on the bicycle as a primary mode of transportation; however, even knowing this ahead of time didn’t prepare us for the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of well-dressed professionals peddling en masse at top speed throughout the city at all times of day. As two people that look to identify and embrace the simpler aspects of life, this really appealed to Kiley and I. Most of these people could probably afford nice cars and parking spots close to work, but gladly accept the extra few minutes of travel in exchange for a quieter commute with a breeze.
Aside from envying the Dutch for their nice bikes and nicer clothes, we were also grateful for how kind and accommodating everyone was. One of our duties while in Rotterdam was to get Schaefer a tapeworm treatment, the last on his long list of requirements for entering the UK. We scheduled a vet appointment several weeks in advance, but upon arrival found that it was at a different office on the other side of the city. Despite having several people waiting, our vet tech called the other office to advise that they’d be able to accommodate us. The folks at the office couldn’t have been nicer to us and to Schaefer during the visit (they even filled out additional paperwork at our request), especially when it came time to pay the bill. To our horror, none of our cards worked on the office machine and when we emptied our pockets, we ended up being a few euro short. Rather than requesting that we withdraw cash from the (at that point) unfamiliar network of ATMs, the vet tech kindly assured us that they would cover the remaining balance. A short time later, we returned the favor by delivering an orchid plant to the office.
Other highlights from our time in Rotterdam included: long walks, picnics, and naps in Het Park (in succession on one occasion); solid cuisine, including plenty of vegetarian options on every menu (a welcome change from Italy for Kiley); lots of time boat-watching along the water; admiring the architecture; and… there’s something I’m forgetting…
…oh yea, GOATS!
After checking in that first night and sleeping in separate single beds (not as advertised), our distain for our accommodations only grew the next morning as the room quickly heated up to what felt like 150 degrees (Celsius or Fahrenheit, take your pick), fueled by the direct morning sun and poor window dressings. Equally fuming as we exited quickly without breakfast, we soon stumbled through what turned out to be the only less-than-stellar part of Rotterdam that we encountered. At that early stage, it appeared that our time in the city was going to be a bust. That is, until we came upon a certain city park with an unusual attraction: goats! More goats! However, unlike their Italian cousins, these goats were very small, enjoyed climbing on their playscape, and were particularly curious about Schaefer. It’s amazing how a few urban goats attempting to interact with your shih-tzu can turn around your entire trip!
TO BE CONTINUED…
In our next episode, we follow Kiley, Mike, and Schaefer as they complete their journey to London.
Will they make the ferry crossing safely? Will they finally get Schaefer into the UK? Will these three ever tire of travelling?
Uncover these riddles AND MORE next time (Hint: the answers are all ‘yes’)…