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To celebrate my Dad's 70th birthday, my family decided to book a trip to Italy. Tim was already going to be in Italy, attending the World Esperanto Congress in Turin, for the first part of their holiday. I decided to fly out to meet them in Verona towards the end of their time there, while Tim made his way across Italy from Turin to meet up with us all for the second part of the holiday in Bolzano. My journey started on Friday morning, walking into Nuneaton to catch a train to Birmingham International for my Ryanair flight to Verona. Having heard that there is a bit of chaos at Birmingham airport this summer due to renovations for a new security terminal, I decided to turn up three hours ahead of my flight to make sure I definitely got through security on time. Imagine my disappointment when I got to the Ryanair baggage machines, only to be told that I wasn't allowed to use them until two hours before my flight. That was annoying, but I managed to pass an hour in Costa and then come back for a second attempt. It turned out that I needn't have worried about getting to the airport early; it was a pretty quiet time of day and I whizzed through security in less than 10 minutes. Unfortunately, my flight then ended up being delayed for no clear reason, but luckily only by around half an hour or so. The flight to Verona is a fairly short one and before too long I was queuing for passport control on the other side. By the time I got through that, my bag was already waiting for me on the baggage carousel which was a relief; I'm always nervous about flights where I have to stick my own label onto my bag! I emerged into a rather humid Verona, where it looked like it was soon going to rain. Getting the airport bus into the centre of town is theoretically straightforward, but in practice turned out to be complete chaos. Lots of passengers didn't understand how they were supposed to buy tickets, then once people had bought tickets and managed to get on board there was more chaos as it's one of those airport buses that don't have any space for luggage. I spent the entirety of my journey balancing in the bendy part of the bus, where the floor moves every time you go round a corner. Once I made it to the main station in Verona, it was just another short bus ride to the part of the city where my family were staying. My sister met me and led me to their apartment, where I spent the night. The next morning, after a breakfast of croissants and coffee, we headed back to the main station to catch a train to Bolzano. The journey took less than two hours on a regional train, which was surprisingly busy; we were lucky that we were at the station early so that we could jump on the train as soon as it arrived and find space for our luggage. We arrived in Bolzano around 13.30 and I set off towards the apartment I'd booked, where someone was waiting to check me in. It's a nice apartment, in a residential block not far from the cable car station in Bolzano. We've got a kitchen... ...a living room... ...and a bedroom. Best of all there's air conditioning, although it did take me a while to figure out how to get the temperature to go below 25 degrees! I unpacked for a while, then set off back to the train station to meet Tim, who had had a nightmare 9-hour bus journey across Italy from Turin. Once we'd all made it to Bolzano we went out in the evening for a pizza. The weather forecast had been looking a bit mixed for the following day, but when we woke up on Sunday morning it seemed surprisingly sunny. Our first plan had been to go up the cable car to Soprabolzano, but when we all met at the cable car station we found that there was an enormous backlog of people queuing to go up the mountain. We're not sure whether it's always like that at this time of year or whether it was particularly busy today thanks to the good weather, combined with the fact that it's a Sunday. We decided to leave Soprabolzano for another day and instead go with a back-up plan to visit Runkelstein Castle, which is about a 40-minute walk away from central Bolzano. We started by walking through the town, where we got a glimpse of the controversial victory monument erected by Mussolini. From there we turned off and walked along a pleasant trail through lots of greenery. We could hear, although not always see, a fast-flowing river. Every so often we also got glimpses of mountains in the distance. We walked past vineyards... ...and several buildings which looked like castles but weren't the castle we were going to visit. The views of the mountains here were fantastic. As we continued on, everywhere looked so green that it almost felt like we were in the Azores. We passed another building which wasn't the castle we were looking for... ...found the river again... ...and then eventually got our first glimpse of Runkelstein Castle. It was an impressive castle, but quite high up; we still had a bit of a climb to get to it. It was rather steep but we all made it to the castle gates just before a torrential downpour began! Luckily the castle has a nice restaurant, where we were able to sit inside until the weather improved and get some lunch. I was slightly disappointed that they'd run out of apple juice, so couldn't make me the Apfelschorle I was craving, but I managed to console myself with an Aperol Spritz. After lunch, my family stayed to explore the castle which has some impressive frescos. Tim and I are philistines as far as frescoes are concerned, so we decided to walk back to Bolzano via a slightly different route. The weather had massively improved by this stage, which was good. The path led us uphill towards vineyards. There were so many grapes! We could see down towards Bolzano in the distance. This part of the route was relatively flat, but there was a lot of uphill to get to it, followed by a lot of downhill at the end. The views of Bolzano were superb though... ...and as we got towards the end of the walk I was amazed to find that there were cactuses growing by the side of the path! Definitely not what I expected to find in Bolzano The path brought us out not far from our apartment, so we were able to head back there for a while to cool down (and catch up on the blog ).
We haven't been away before Christmas for several years - not since 2013 when we last went to the Christmas markets in Ljubljana and Zagreb - so booking a trip to Bolzano before Christmas this year was something that happened quite spontaneously. We were watching the Eurovision song contest... or, at least, I was watching the Eurovision song contest... and Tim was sitting in the same room watching it under sufferance... and somehow he managed to get so bored that he started playing around on Skyscanner and found cheap flights to Verona in the week before Christmas. Admittedly they were from Gatwick and would require quite an early start, but the temptation of a cheap flight was too much for us to resist. When researching where we could go, Tim found some pictures of Bolzano in winter which looked really pretty, and so we soon had a plan When the alarm went off at 02.30 this morning I was admittedly slightly less excited by the concept of an early flight from Gatwick We had a smooth journey down though, arriving at the airport by 6am and with plenty of time to have breakfast at Wetherspoons. Our plane boarded quite early too, but unfortunately it ended up taking off around 50 minutes behind schedule. Unbeknown to us, there is some sort of industrial action going on in France at the moment which includes French air traffic controllers being on strike. Because of that, lots of flights were being rerouted to avoid flying through French air space, and that was causing congestion. I ended up falling asleep before we took off, although take off itself did wake me up because it felt like the plane was being blown from side to side as it raced down the runway! There was a bit of turbulence during the flight itself and overall the skies seemed quite cloudy. We didn't have much of a view because we had middle and aisle seats, and the person next to us had the window blind closed for a lot of the flight. It was around midday by the time we touched down in Verona, where the pilot announced that it was a rather mild 12 degrees! It certainly didn't feel freezing cold when we stepped off the plane and I started to regret having brought so many cold weather clothes with me. We've been to Verona before but never to Verona airport, and first impressions were that it seemed pretty small. We had to queue for ages at passport control because pretty much the entire flight had to pass through three automatic passport control gates, but the upside was that our luggage was already coming round the conveyor belt by the time we got out There is a frequent bus service from the airport to the main train station in Verona, with tickets costing €6. There was a bus outside the airport when we arrived, but there was quite a big queue and it already seemed pretty full. We decided to give it a miss rather than try to push our way on and wait for the next one instead. That turned out to be a good decision; the next bus came within 15 minutes and it wasn't more than half full, which was good because it was one of those airport buses that doesn't have anywhere to put your luggage. We arrived at Verona Porta Nuova around 13.15 and went to a ticket machine to buy our tickets to Bolzano. It cost around €15 each on the regional train, which didn't seem too bad considering it was a journey of nearly 2 hours. The next train was leaving at 13.50, so we purchased tickets for that and then had a look around the station to see whether there was anywhere we could get a quick lunch while we waited. The eating options in Verona's station turned out to be a bit limited, and so we ended up getting a snack from Burger King (I know, this sounds like a dreadful thing to do when you've just arrived in Italy, but we were hungry ). All the signs and railway announcements said that our train was running late, but confusingly it actually turned up early and we were soon on our way towards Bolzano. Once we had left the outskirts of Verona behind, the journey quickly became really scenic. Although it was quite a grey and cloudy day, the mountains still looked beautiful (The photos aren't very good because there was a lot of reflection in the train window!) We passed through lots of interesting little places, and within half an hour or so we were getting our first glimpses of little bits of snow on the mountaintops. We arrived in Bolzano just after 15.30 and made our way from the main train station to the station of the Renon cable car. Our hotel is in the village of Soprabolzano/Oberbozen, which sits on a plateau above the main city of Bolzano at an altitude of around 1200m. Because we anticipated that we might be travelling up and down the mountain quite a bit over the next few days, we invested in a Mobilcard; this cost €28 each for 7 days and allows us to travel on most of the public transport in the region. The choices are 1, 3 or 7 days and it made sense to buy for 7, even though we aren't here for that long, because it was only €5 more than for the 3-day pass, and a single journey on the Renon cablecar would otherwise cost €6 each. This is the first time we've ever caught a cable car to our hotel and so I was quite excited As we got higher up we could see more snow in the distance. Soon we were at the top and only had a walk of a few hundred metres to get to our hotel. There were tiny little patches of snow on the grass, which suggested that there had recently been snow up here but that it had now thawed. We found the hotel without any difficulties but it was all shut up and there was a sign saying that reception would be open again at 18.00. Luckily, the owners had left us a note with our key... and luckily we were able to read German to follow the instructions We found our room and it is really beautiful It's more like a studio apartment than a hotel room. And the views out the window are fantastic I was in definite need of a nap by this point, so it was early evening by the time we set out to find some food. Everywhere was looking very festive There aren't loads of restaurant options up here, but we found a little pizzeria and shared a four cheeses plus a salami pizza. Then it was back to the hotel for an early night! The weather forecast isn't great for the next couple of days, but rain-permitting I'm definitely looking forward to exploring more tomorrow