Verona

Our friend Larry Hughes who used to own an Italian restaurant in Phoenix told us that his favorite place in Italy is Verona. We considered that to be a very high recommendation! We chose Hotel Accademia for lodging since it was in the center but also offered parking. We found the service to be good and the hotel itself to be somewhat traditional. Breakfast was a touch on the light side. We got a lot of street noise since we were on a pedestrian thoroughfare and could hear revelers coming home at all hours. Still it was fun to be right in the historical center of the town.

We did reserve dinner in Verona, because John really wanted to go Casa Perbellini. What an interesting experience. The table next to us was occupied by two parents and two kids playing on their iPads. We found prices steep for two, much less three!

The next day we had a nice wander around old town, including a hike up to the castle, before we hit the road for Lake Garda.


Milan

Our trip to Italy had a singular purpose: To run the sky race on Lake Garda with our friends Xavi and Helena, who live in Barcelona. John and I found it was easiest to fly into Milan, and since we had never been there, we figured two nights was a good amount of time to stay. We booked the Senato Hotel Milano, and they were very friendly. The bed was big and comfortable and the breakfast was good. We had a rainy day of touring and a clear morning before we took off for Verona.


Skyrace

After a simply luxurious brunch at the hotel, we hit the road for our 3 hour drive to Canazei, where John was about to bravely run the Dolomites Skyrace. As we were driving up and down the numbered switchbacks, I just couldn’t help thinking how glad I was that I was too lazy to train for the race so that I didn’t have to do it! I have never seen such hills as these! I didn’t even like driving them much less running them!

But the views were stellar. We rolled into town, picked up John’s packet, and then grabbed some delicious pasta. Our stay at La Cacciatore was worth it just for the unbelievable dinner. We spent most of the afternoon resting, then headed into town for the “race orientation,” which did not do much to ease John’s anxiety!

Then next morning we got up early–too early for breakfast–but they arranged a snack and some coffee. Based on our dinner the night before, I sure wish we would have been able to eat the proper breakfast that came with the room. But no matter. We were headed out and saw someone who looked like he was going to race too. We asked if he wanted a ride and he said sure. Xavi is from Spain and we had a nice chat while heading to the start of the race. He and John talked strategy. It was nice to commiserate!

Watching the line-up was interesting. Everyone was SO FIT. We were looking forward to seeing Kilian Jornet and his girlfriend Emelie Forsberg. There they were! Lined up right in front. The air was electric with excitement, and we could hear the helicopter overhead. Finally the gun sounded and the racers were off. My strategy was to follow the race course as far as I felt like it. I could not even run a step it was so steep. But the hiking was beautiful. I hoofed up 3 miles before I turned around and ran back down. I got a good view of the course peak and man was I glad I didn’t have to go up there!

Waiting for the finishers was worrisome. I have waited for John at the end of lots of races, but this one was not like any other race. I was so afraid he was going to fall and break his head. I waited for an hour at the finish, and I saw people trip, fall, cramp, and cry like babies. Finally John came across the line! I was so relieved! He was okay! Tired, cramping, and a little delirious. But okay! We headed back to the hotel, found some juice, and rested. Then had one more delicious meal at the hotel before sleep.


First Stop, Venice

I’m just going to put this out there. I think this might have been one of our most challenging trips yet. We knew it was going to be a stretch–we had several conversations about what could go wrong. Let’s face it–the loop we planned to cover would require every transfer to run perfectly. In fact I was so worried about the timing that I created a pdf trip guide that listed every single mode of transportation, reservation, and driving map. The document was 59 pages long. I memorized it, then I had John memorize it too.

How would we possibly cover seven countries, nine hotels, an overnight ferry, and 1300 miles of driving without a hitch? The answer is, delightfully! The entire trip ran smoothly. The hardest hardships were: John had a terrible chest cold, we got a 50 Euro parking ticket not an hour into our visit in Croatia (we called it the Gringo tax), and one of our 30-minute driving segments took two hours due to construction. But otherwise, we hit every mark, and best of all–we got along really well! Hardly an argument to speak of. And if the true test of a relationship is a long road trip, I think John and I have this thing covered.

Here’s how the whole thing went down: our friend Kyle dropped us at the Phoenix airport around 6 pm, and our direct flight from Phoenix to Heathrow was luxurious. We had a totally flat bed on British Airways–it’s a 9 hour flight so that makes all the difference. We transferred Heathrow-Gatwick on a coach I had pre-booked online. Super easy. Then we flew Gatwick-Venice, where we caught a water taxi to our hotel the Sant Antonin. I had written to them for a late check-in, and it all went well, except for the strange internet system that required us to click deep into a menu on the television, and then it never worked anyhow. More on the various internet systems we encountered later.

We were too tired to head out into the cobbles and canals, so we went to sleep to get ready for a lovely day of touring. But what a night we had! Thunder, lightning, rain. We managed to get a touch of rest before breakfast downstairs. I must say the Europeans get this right–they don’t send anyone off into the day without feeding them first. Every one of our nine hotels came with breakfast. This one was nice, though since it was raining they had to move the service from the garden to the tiny dining area, and it was cramped. But we got enough to eat, then headed out to beat the crowds.

We used an App called Triposo that offers walking tours at various distances. The App pointed us to all the right spots, and we hit all the must-see’s in about 2 hours. My favorite destination was the Peggy Guggenheim museum, where her personal residence has been transformed into a refuge for some of the most famous modern artists: think Ernst, Kandinsky, Picasso, Chagall; in short, all my favorites. It was such a treat to visit this museum, even though I felt a touch ethnocentric visiting an American’s home in Italy. We wandered back towards the hotel for lunch since we planned to nap after. At Bacarando Ai Corazzieri we accidentally ordered nearly all the food in the restaurant.

After a long nap, we wandered back out for a little wine at Cantinone Gia’Schiavi and a lovely dinner at Osteria Enoteca Ai Artist. We got a gelato for the walk back the hotel, which was a little touch and go there when the evening flooding crowded off several of our routes back.

What a magical place, Venice.Would we really have to leave? The following morning we enjoyed breakfast in the garden before taking our last stroll through the cobbles, where I stopped to salivate over some dresses in a window. Too bad the shop was closed. We caught a water taxi back to the airport to pick up our rental car so we could make our 4 hour drive to Ancona to catch the ferry to Croatia.