Once across the Channel and back into Europe, we blew across France as quickly as we could and headed for Freiburg, Germany, one of our favorite spots on the continent. This time we were not so much there for its vitality and beauty as for access to LPG or ‘gas’ as our final cylinder was nearing bone dry. The problem evolved because once into England we discovered that their system for gas cylinders bore no resemblance to the German ones we had onboard. So Dave jerry rigged a replacement system off of the smaller tank we had for our barbeque in case we ran completely out of gas for our stove and furnace, but it never happened. With but a breath or two of gas left for cooking, we hauled it for Germany and the chance to replace both tanks with full ones, which we did upon arriving at the campground in Freiburg.

We spent an extra day there because we find that city so particularly attractive, then headed Romy south for Switzerland and further on to the family reunion scheduled for five days later in Tuscany. After the better part of a day across much of the Bavarian and Swiss countryside, we finally arrived in the Lautbrunnen Valley, as beautiful as any spot can be in the Alps and breathtaking for its scale, precipitous mountains so very close to the valley floor, and the velvety green of the valley floor itself. The small town was compact and charming in a Swiss chalet sort of way, and was furnished with its own waterfall as backdrop.

Switzerland 2

Switzerland1

We spent three days in the valley, much of it hiking the trail to the right in this photo, which followed both the foot of the mountain and the river below for about eight miles from our campground. It was spectacular!

Switzerland3

One of the surprises of the hikes we took was the number of Middle Easterners visiting there, many of the women in full veils and often two together escorted by the husband they shared. One simply never expects to encounter this on a hiking trail in the Swiss Alps, but the apparent visual dissonance was enlivening and even entertaining.

We finally left the valley assuming that with all the superhighways in Switzerland we would have an easy time of it driving across the border into Italy. But once underway we soon discovered that given the rather remote location we were coming from, the road into Italy was a bit more of a challenge than we had anticipated. Here is just a small part of the road we encountered. Given Romy’s size, it proved to be quite an experience and certainly enhanced our cornering ability!

Switzerland4

In total it took about five hours to complete the journey to flatter, more ‘modern’ roads in Italy, but as you can see in the foreground, the wildflowers were beautiful!

Once there we drove hard for a couple of days to reach Tuscany where a huge family reunion was scheduled at a beautiful hilltop villa with views out across the valley below. There were, in total, twenty-seven family members in attendance, including eight grandchildren, so it was an absolute blast! Here is a lineup of some of the attendees at an overlook

Family

and Bonnie and her children against the night sky.

Family2

Dave was also able to illicit a stare from one of the grandkids with his tongue!

Tongue

But we also took a number of day trips out from the villa, going as far as Assisi and spending two afternoons in the beautiful nearby medieval town of Cortona. It is bound by twisting narrow streets that wrap around and climb the hill it sits upon and is a real jewel and almost prototype for the Tuscany hill town.

Cortona2

Cortona

It also turned out to be the lunch stop for a biker club from Florence who made quite a commotion as they mounted up and blew out of town.

Bikers

And was also the location of the largest ice cream cone we had ever seen, about to be devoured by its German purchaser to the envy and laughter of his young son.

Ice Cream

Once everyone disbanded and went their many ways we drove to see again our friends in Umbertide, Susan and Gary Pohl, who moved here three years ago and love its atmosphere and quiet. We went with them to a wonderful restaurant in the country, so rural that goats and sheep roamed the fields to each side of the walk to the farmhouse where we ate.

Farm Restaurant

There was virtually no sign of the restaurant from the road but it turned out to be a local favorite and filled up soon after we arrived.

From there we drove west to Montecatini Terme where we stayed on a mountainside in a lovely campground. It was easy to get into town by local bus and this, in turn, gave us access to the modern rail system which runs from Florence to the western coast and beyond. Within a day of arriving, Dave’s niece Kristi’s family turned up in Florence as if from a hat, and we immediately grabbed a train to join them for a lunch and to have our first time in Florence since the 1990’s. Here we are, all doing their best to finish off our huge plates of wonderful Italian delights.

Florence, Tuscany, Italy_2

Here are a couple of shots from our wander around the city, this being probably the most photographed bridge in the world, rivaled only by the Golden Gate.

Florence, Tuscany, Italy_3

We also discovered this busy, cluttered, and colorful shop on a street corner and it just demanded attention and a chance to be included.

Florence, Tuscany, Italy_4

Our last stop before turning toward Austria was a short train ride to Lucca. We were, to be quite honest, rather staggered by its charm and the wonderful way its perhaps hundred foot wide wall circles the entire city and avails itself to walks and bike rides. Let us give you a brief tour of what one sees from its height.

This is a view from the wall itself into the park surrounding the outside of Lucca. Note that it is perhaps thirty feet high and constructed mostly of brick.

Lucca, Tuscany, Italy_2

This is what it looks like as we walked its circumference.

Lucca, Tuscany, Italy

And we did encounter a few interesting scenes along the way including chess playersLucca6

and exhausted bicyclists.

Lucca5

There were also fascinating views into gardens and homes along the path, among them this sculpture littered hotel grounds.

Lucca, Tuscany, Italy_3

Not that the wall is all Lucca has for lovely historical charm as the central plaza is testimony to as well.

Lucca, Tuscany, Italy_4

We left Lucca feeling as though it was one of four or five towns we have encountered in Europe where we would like to settle for a few months and absorb more of what makes them so attractive. So it is somehow likely that we will be back, particularly when we envision our next summer’s European travels to be focused more on planting our feet in selected locations and staying awhile. Don’t tell Romy!