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The Photography Blog from Beastmaster.co.uk


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Sunday 25th May and Monday 26th May – The Navigator Of My Dreams

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This was the last morning of the Opel GT meet so everyone was going their separate ways after breakfast. Everyone took lots of photos and hugs goodbye were in abundance and then we were left at the hotel with our friend and host Norbert. Peanut finds goodbyes very hard these days and kept disappearing for a cry from time to time, but she always came back with her brave face on and brushed aside her sad thoughts. It was just too sunny, too lovely and too much fun for tears! Anyways, we had decided to have a quiet day with the minimum of driving before our long journey home tomorrow and with this in mind we were going to spend the day at Trauttmansdorff Castle which was in Merano. We had picked up a leaflet about this wonderful castle and garden in the hotel and as it had won the International Garden of the Year award last year we felt we had to see it. It was on Norbert’s way home too, so we convoyed briefly with him as far as the exit for Merano.  And then we were on our own and the fantastic fun that we had had in The Dolomites with our Opel GT friends was behind us. It had been a thrilling, exhilarating couple of days enhanced by lovely weather, epic scenery and mind boggling driving. The memories will stick that’s for sure!

The castle was easy enough to find with several car parks to choose from. We parked up and walked down the road through arches of roses in full bloom to the information centre. While we waited to buy our tickets it became obvious that the castle doesn’t take card payments for entrance fees, which was both a surprise and disappointment because of course we did not have enough cash on us. Do we ever? I am still astounded that the winner of the International  Garden of the Year doesn’t take cards but we had no choice but to leave and get some cash. So another short trip to Merano town centre for money, but with the advantage this time that we knew where the cash machine was. Pity that it was in a pedestrian area but never mind we were in Italy so we quickly drove in turned round, turned lots of heads with our Opel GT and then came out again.

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Back at Trauttmansdorff for the second time and this time we were in. We had a quick look round the Tourism Museum, which actually was very interesting and gave us a better insight into the area as a whole. Italian territory but populated by German speaking residents, the South Tyrol is a very prosperous region. After the museum we decided we would eat before exploring the gardens. We chose salads for our lunch, a simple mixed for P and smoked salmon and asparagus for me. Really very nice and perfect before our walk around the gardens of Trauttmansdorff. We had a rather nice little map to follow and decided that as the gardens were also on a hillside and we were halfway up, we would start at the top and work down. We made our first stop a very imposing viewing platform which boldly protruded out from the side of the hill near the top and which was clearly constructed by a madman. Poor P was a bit nervous of even walking on it as it was a lattice of ironwork and you could see through it, but she braved it out and stood at the end, briefly, then scurried back to the safety of the path. It had a suspension style construction, giving movement to the platform too which was a bit unnerving. We meandered about searching out points if interest on our map and soon ended up by the lake, a centre point to the gardens nestling in the shadow of the castle high above on one side. Importantly, the ice cream shop was by the lake.. It was a lovely day and an ice cream in the sunshine seemed at good way to pass the time. The planting in some of the beds was quite astounding  and the roses must have been at their very best. These gardens really were right up there with the best we have seen. Italy is famous for some of its gardens and I thought of some others we had visited on islands in the Italian Lakes and the Bobboli Gardens in Florence. This garden was just how I like mine – tidy, whereas the Bobboli Gardens looked a bit down at heel to me. The faded grandeur look so common to the Stucco houses of Italy had permeated the Bobboli gardens to my mind and had not done some gorgeous gardens any favours. These were immaculate in every detail and for me a joy to explore.

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But all things must end and we needed to head back to our hotel for our meal. When we got back, we sat in the hotel garden and had some tea and thought that although we had driven through some beautiful scenery, there was nowhere more beautiful than where we were right now, with mountains, snow, pine clad slopes, meadows of wild flowers, a field of black goats with bells opposite us, a pretty village at the bottom of the valley and even a waterfall. It was simply perfect. And then I walloped Mrs P at the bar football we found in another part of the garden. Great fun!

We had another lovely meal and a spritz before bed, and up in our room we stood on the balcony and admired the stars.

The next morning we packed up promptly and were headed off for home by 10.30. We had been invited to stop at Norbert’s house near Lake Constance for a break which was a good place  for our first stop. He and his wife Gudrun very kindly gave us coffee and tea with a lovely cake. I loved the randomness of our lives – I know let’s go to Norbert’s in Germany for lunch on our way home! As we sat in their garden, the sunshine faded and  it began to cloud over, a thunderstorm looked to be brewing, so we said our goodbyes, made tracks and set off again across Germany to France.

It struck us as odd that we did not see any indication of where the borders were all the way from Italy through Austria, Germany and France. The only sign we saw was as we neared Austria telling us we needed to pay for a 10 day pass to use the Austrian motorways.

So we headed west into the setting sun thinking about our great adventure, and I realised I was about ready to go home now, with my lovely Mrs P beside me, the love of my life and the navigator of my dreams. Ready to plot and plan some new adventures and grab all the hours of fun we can find together. We were very content on that drive home happy with the knowledge  that whatever happens tomorrow, we had today.

 

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Saturday 24th May – Playing In The Dolomites

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Let’s skip the boring bit and get to the good stuff. We all left together today with the idea that we will not be going fast. Ha! It’s a good job we have been MINI trained because a lot of folk would have just packed up and gone home with the refrain ‘It’s too fast’. I know because I have heard them in recent runs, sad things they don’t know what they are missing.

But there we were rattling along beautiful roads at great speed, curving round bends, hurtling through pine forests and generally having lots of fun. We did a few less passes as such but took more twisty roads through and along the sides of valleys. The scenery was simply stunning. We raced on and up to the Paser Joch where there was still 6 foot of snow. We were behind the Corvette with his 5.7 litres of muscle. We edged him on the bends but then we hit a very long stretch of long straights and gentle bends. The Corvette was in home territory and we hit speeds that were… Well right on the edge of being legal of course. If I say “flip that was fast” then I think you know I never said flip! This was an epic drive.

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We paused at the top and a gaggle of Porsches raced up and roared to a stop. But they didn’t stop for long and soon roared off down the other side, I remembered one in particular as it had Martini stripes and really looked the business.

We cracked on and 2.30 saw us up the side of a valley having lunch in an outside  restaurant with an amazing view of the valley below. What a simply lovely place! By this point though we needed fuel quite badly and as we left we were told the next stop would be for refuelling, but we should have asked where it would be, as our need for fuel was by now quite desperate. As we entered Merano our car started ‘pinging’ it’s fuel warning, a sign that the end is nigh, and as we had no idea where the fuel stop was we pulled out of the convoy and went to find some fuel in the town.

We soon found a garage, closed but self service, so fine. But it would only accept Italian cards, so much for the EU. So we drove on to the next only a few hundred yard further on and again, closed but self service, and only if you are Italian.
I suppose I should add that it would take notes, but in our usual fashion we had none of those either.

So I sent P off on a mission to get some cash. She soon returned looking glum. The Bancomat she found told her that my card was “not valid for International transactions”. Now this was a blatant lie and P was pretty sure we had used it many times before, but not on this holiday. But it didn’t alter the fact that essentially it had told her to clear off and she wasn’t going to get any money.

So faced with a bit of a problem we set off together back to the Bancomat where I tried again. UK bank no good, French bank no good, both saying the same thing. At this point I had to ring my bank in England to find out what was going on, which took an age, but he did confirm that there should be no problem and advised me to find another ATM.

So off we trotted into town and soon found the pretty centre of Merano with a river running through it, and a bank. We gave the card a try and whoopee! We had struck lucky this time and all was resolved. Our friend Andy had once told us that all stress situations could be solved with ice cream, it was certainly very warm and we were a bit hot and bothered, so ice cream seemed the obvious choice. Luckily the man in the kiosk didn’t mind changing a 50 euro note for two ice creams!

So back at the petrol station we filled up and got on our way. By now though we were a long way behind the rest of the gang, so we made our own way back to the hotel with the help of TomTom. He has been a life saver again for us, as he had been rather shelved with Sat Nav in the Coupe and on the iPhone, but he has come into his own this holiday and been a great friend. Heck we might even treat him to a map upgrade as a reward!

When we reached the hotel, Norbert rushed out to greet us as he had been a bit worried about us being out and about on our own. We explained what had happened and he told us that the fuel stop was about 100 yards after we had pulled out of the convoy! Oh well, we would never have seen Merano if we had stuck with them and Merano is quite simply a lovely and prosperous town.

Another lovely evening meal followed in the hotel and we enjoyed a long chat with Norbert. We then watched the European Cup Final and saw Real be victorious. Ronaldo scored a penalty, ripped his shirt off, pulled his face and flexed his muscles. I’m getting old because it just disgusted me and I wanted to give him a good slap! Grrrrr! Anyway, time for bed so up to the play room we went at the end of another stupendous day driving in the Dolomites. Goodnight. X

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Friday 23rd May – Hurtling Around The Dolomites

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Today was a day out driving the GTs but we were not expected to be ready to rock until 10.00am so we did not have to be up too early. We had our breakfast at 9 not wanting to be the latecomers. There were to be two groups and we would be the second car in our group behind our friend Norbert.

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We all set off together and I had a shock at how fast we went down the single track road straight out of the hotel! Very soon we had separated into two groups, which made more sense in this terrain. The rules were simple, no overtaking other GTs, look out for the person behind and don’t lose them at turns. The pace was very fast but I loved the chance to really drive the Opel. Being left hand drive you just can’t chuck it around as well in England. The traction control was coming on at every bend and slowing me down exiting, so I quickly turned that off and after that I made a reasonable effort of keeping the English end up against this gang of enthusiastic German drivers. After about forty minutes of this intensive driving, we realised we had lost the chap two cars behind us, who was in a Corvette. He had definitely turned the corner but was behind a truck, and now he wasn’t!

So we slowed down and Norbert, who was leading, went back to see what was wrong. He shortly returned and told us that the Corvette had lost its braking ability and needed urgent attention, certainly no possibility of it continuing the trip. We made the decision to finish the run that was planned with just us and Norbert, while the other two GTs stuck with the Corvette and guided it to a Corvette garage. When we returned to the hotel we found out it was air in the brakes but it was fixed and he was ok for the next day.

After carrying on, we soon found ourselves at Canazei which was the base for the 2007 Dolomites trip that we did with a gang of MINIs planned by our pal Wigley and it was very strange driving past the hotel we had used on that trip, as it wasn’t a place we ever thought we would get a chance to go back to. We drove up the Pordoi pass and then the Sella and some parts did seem familiar. It was great fun to drive the Opel at such speed on these roads. It was staggering how fast it picked up speed but also how well it did the bends. Driving the car on the right side of the road, this left hander does not feel as wide as it does back at home. We had a few photo stops, actually some at places we visited with the MINIs but the weather wasn’t great and it was quite cold up there and still very snowy.

So after a lunch stop in a handy village which saw us eating soup and pizza, we were off again and this time we led so that Norbert could get some footage on his Go Pro. It seems such a long time since we were hurtling around mountain passes and hairpin bends and I had forgotten how much fun it is, and the scenery in this part of the Dolomites is quite stunning. P meanwhile had assumed that brace position known and loved by all high speed passengers, one hand on the door rail, the other on the middle and both feet wedged in the footwell, it all came back to her quite easily. We both noticed though that the Opel is a comfier ride than the MINI is. There is no roll at all, the suspension does its work in the bends, while the car just copes with the potholes. Neither of us expected to be so impressed. The MINIs handling is superb maybe a smudge better but if so not much and there is a high price to pay in lost fillings!

After lunch the weather got slowly more cloudy and the threat of rain, which had already raised its head at some of the earlier passes, became more of a reality and we made the decision to put our roofs up just in the nick of time, as it began to pour down for a short while.

We got back to the hotel just as the other group, who had already returned, were washing their cars. There is no slacking with these folk and they like their cars to look good after each days fun, So naturally, I dispatched P out to join them in the cleaning ritual.

Later we had our usual tasty dinner and then there was the promise of The Garage. It would appear that underneath this hotel is a garage with a pit that they tinker and play in on the Friday night of these trips. With a tray of Ramazotti to keep the brains well oiled the evening went very well and the garage itself was not only huge but full of the most marvellous array of bits and pieces, and was every handyman’s dream. We now realise that we need a big brake kit, chrome alloys, a Magnaflow Exhaust and an Opel load of stick on bits for the inside and out. It is a sad fact of life that my virtual wallet is bigger than my actual wallet!

Eventually though the concrete floor made my chemo battered feet ache like mad so we said our good nights. I dreamt of razzing round some glorious mountain passes in a sexy red sports car with a fit bird in the passenger seat and realised my dream had come true!

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Thursday 22nd May – the Dolomites

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We managed a very organised exit from Venice, as all went to plan, nothing got messed up, no surprises and we were packed up in the car and ready to go by 11.15. It was how far to our destination? Ah yes, our destination, where the devil was it? Somewhere in the Dolomites wasn’t it?

Indeed it was, as we were off to meet a bunch of crazy Germans who had Opel GTs like ours and who were spending a few days exploring the Dolomites. However, we had forgotten to add the address to good old TomTom. P hastily searched through emails to find out the one which we had been sent with the GPS co-ordinates in. She put them in and hey presto, there it was 248 miles away. No idea where it was but it looked like it was north east of Trento so that would do. It was kind of exciting driving to a set of gps coordinates somewhere up a mountain!

Off we went with the plan of only stopping for driver changes until we got there. The idea was that first there would get the best room so we would aim to strike a blow and steal the best room for the Englanders. Again, all went well and about 2pm we arrived at our hotel. After we got the key to the (best!) room and unpacked we were very hungry and so we ordered a little snack to eat in the lovely garden looking at the snow covered mountains across the other side of the valley and listening to the waterfall cascading down the mountain side, there was no doubt it certainly was an idyllic spot to have a holiday. We felt we needed to fill the car with petrol for the next day as these efficient Germans would no doubt arrive with full tanks. So we rushed off to the little garage we passed a mile away in the village and while we were there we washed our little boy so he wouldn’t look mucky when he met his new friends.

While we were there our German friend Norbert, who had invited us to come along to this Opel GT meet, drove past us and popped in to introduce himself, but we were mid wash cycle by then and couldn’t really chat properly. We soon caught up though when we got back to the hotel.

We met the rest of the Gang as they slowly arrived, speaking varying amounts of English and us speaking no German at all. It was exciting as each Opel GT turned up, all roaring up the mountain with their customised Magnaflow exhausts and open air filters! When they were all here we had black ones, red ones, a yellow one, a grey one, a navy one and a Corvette that was pretending to be an Opel GT for a few days! There are only two Opel GTs registered in the UK so I had never seen so many in one place at one time. I was like a pig in muck as I revelled in looking at all the mods and graphics, the alloy wheels and big brake kits, the lowered suspensions and so on. Ours on its original wheels and suspension looked like an SUV next to this lot!

Aperitifs and nibbles were to be served in the garden at 6.30 which sounded very civilised, so we disappeared up to our room to freshen up and chill until then. It really was a lovely room, a lift to the second floor and then it’s own staircase leading to the room, which had a nice living area as well as the bedroom. The balcony view was stupendous and explained why this was called the Panorama Hotel!

Aperitifs allowed us to meet all the gang, who were a good bunch and enjoyed laughing a lot, though inevitably it was easier to talk to some than others due to the language difference. Norbert though was a smashing host and we were made to feel really welcome. Our evening meal was very nice indeed, with a help yourself salad style thing to start with rather like they have in a Harvester, but without the naughty bits. Then a small dish of basil noodles which were delicious. Pork steak with chips and vegetables followed with fruit of the forest strudel and ice cream, which tasted of Christmas Pudding with raisins in. All yummy and very welcome and to cap it all, as we ate we watched a deer scamper down the mountainside in amongst the wild flowers. It was very Sound of Music! This was the perfect place for a gang of car lovers to use as a base for touring the Dolomites and I was by now really looking forward to the driving that the morning promised. And so the evening ended and we climbed upstairs to our suite in the attic, with our own balcony and two mountains of marshmallow duvets.

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Wednesday 21st May – Our Third Day In Venice

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We decided to get up earlier this morning to avoid yesterday’s chaos in the breakfast room, we sat in the quieter second room away from the kitchen but to be fair, the whole place seemed more relaxed and organised today, which was no bad thing. The coffee was still lovely.

We had tickets for the Doges Palace so we thought we would get on with that while our feet were relatively fresh. We couldn’t have an audio guide as we had no ID, that’s an odd arrangement and seems quite French to me, not at all Italian. But we enjoyed our tour and P did her best to read everything and tell me the best bits. It is seriously impressive and we had no idea how organised the democracy of Venice was, or that they had their very own FBI/state police long before anyone else. I suppose it all stems from Venice being derived from a band of crooks and thieves, so they were very well aware of just how corrupt people could be!

After the State Rooms we went down to the prisons and obviously over the Bridge of Sighs, where prisoners got their last sight of the outside world before being locked away, often until they died! Finally we felt we had done enough culture and we left and began another ramble to no purpose through the narrow alley ways of Venice, stopping for a spritz and to buy a pretty handbag for P, which caught our eye in a shop window. We continued on to the Piazza where we had lunch last time we were in Venice, and were entertained by an amusing street artist impersonating Charlie Chaplin. He wasn’t there this time but we were happy to watch the world go by. Later on our wander we stopped for an ice cream – Italian ice cream – delicious. On the way back P spotted some shoes she liked but when she tried them on they weren’t comfortable but meanwhile I had spotted some leather gloves in the same shop. They were in a lovely green colour and fitted P like a… Well a glove – she was doing very well today!

We intended to get another of those lovely watercolours we saw by the waterbus stop at St Marks, so we headed in that direction, finding out after we had got there and chosen one, that we didn’t have enough cash on us to buy it. So I sent P off to the Banco to get some dosho. She was gone ages and I was beginning to get concerned when she rushed back and explained what had happened. Cue drama…

It seemed that after she had started her transaction the ATM had a fit and told her to remove her card but didn’t spit it out. Then it announced it was broken. It was only 4.10 so she thought she would go in the bank and explain and maybe they could get her card out. But she couldn’t get in, and while she was wondering why the door wouldn’t open, someone came out and told her it was shut for the day. She explained her plight and he went back in and got someone to help her, as they had only been shut 10 minutes and were still there. So she got in and a very kind lady fetched the card out of the machine.

This could have been a disaster, as we were leaving Venice the next day and the bank would not be open in time to sort this out before we went. But we are finding the Italians very helpful and pleasant as a rule, if you exclude the stressed girl in the breakfast room. Had this happened in France I have no doubt this would have turned out very differently.

Anyway she got her breath and wits back (breath definitely) and then rushed off again to find some money elsewhere, which she did, and we bought our picture. That was enough excitement for today so we headed back to our hotel to give our feet a well earned rest. We had chosen our restaurant for our last meal “That nice one by the side of a canal” as P said. Well that was very descriptive, it certainly narrowed it down a bit in Venice, but I knew where she meant and more importantly, I knew where it was – no mean feet as the alleyways can get very confusing. So that was where we headed and for dinner at the waiter’s recommendation we had two types of grilled fish which he expertly filleted at our table, so we only had a few bones to contend with. A few roasties accompanied the fish and it was delicious, aided by a full bottle of wine, which is a lot for us these days over a meal.

Time for our final cocktail in Venice, which had to be a Bellini. We stopped off in the same swish bar we had the spritz in on Monday night, which had by now been designated our favourite bar. This Bellini was beautiful, and I mean delicious in every way. It was made with a fresh peach liquidised and the glass topped up with Prossecco and it smelt divine. It was a great way to end a short break in Venice, and was further proof that we still have unfinished business in this magical place. I mean heck, now we have a local there…

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