Ah, it's get-away day today. For those on the group flight, a private water taxi waits to take you on a direct sail to the Venice Marco Polo Airport. From the airport dock it's a short walk to the terminal to catch your flight. If you otherwise have a flight out today and the timing works right, you can catch a ride on the same taxi shuttle. Your tour leaders will be heading to the airport with you, to ensure you get checked in satisfactorily.
For those who are staying on for some extra days ... if you are staying at the same hotel, check with the desk to see if you can remain in your same room or if perhaps they need to move you. And if you are headed for a different hotel, be sure to observe the check-out time.
Our group flight for the Italian Campaign tour is typically arranged through Air Canada. It allows us to fly into Rome, and out from Venice, with the same airline. Connections within Canada are also easier, and form part of a single ticket so that you are protected from scheduling hiccups.
To close out this abbreviated blog, here are a random selection of photos from past tours, showing some of the places and moments that will likely be part of your tour in 2021 ... fingers crossed for a vaccine soon. : ) See the captions below. Hopefully we will see you in some of these group shots very soon.
We hope this has given you perhaps just a little feel for what it will be like next fall. We are truly hopeful that leisure travel might return by next September and October and you can see the wonderful sights with your own eyes. So many great views and vistas await!
- John, Phil and Mark.
Today is a full day at your leisure. Your tourist pass will get you across the water from our hotel into the heart of town and from there, you'll want to do a lot of walking and taking pictures. The weather today is 16C and slightly overcast, perfect for photography and tourist exploration.
We'll ask everyone to make their way back to the island hotel for late afternoon ... so that we can gather for our Farewell Dinner. It's time to enjoy a few more glasses of wine, recount all the special moments we've shared, have some laughs too, and enjoy some expertly prepared cuisine. We might even test your memory of Phil and Mark's historical briefings!
The final leg of our adventure takes us along the Adriatic Coast to one of the most famous cities in all the world ... VENICE! Here is our simple route ...
We will depart as early as we can, to arrive as early in Venice as we can, to give you maximum time possible to explore this absolutely enchanting city. Our hotel is on the island of Murano, famous for its glass-making. You might wish to tour one of the factories.
We will provide you with a 2-day tourist pass for the public transit system ... a boat system just like a local bus. Step aboard, step off at your chosen stop, and there you are - in the heart of the lagoons and narrow streets, filled with shops, coffee stands and little tables awaiting your lunch order.
Tonight is your first of two nights in this incredible place. Good idea to do your suitcase repacking this evening, as tomorrow we have a farewell dinner planned for you. : )
This morning we will make an excursion a short distance south, then work our back to Ravenna for a free afternoon. The weather looks good again today. Here is our route!
Our first stop is the very spot where Ernest "Smokey" Smith displayed incredible courage, and earned himself the third and final Victoria Cross of the Italian Campaign. It was at the Savio River where he fought off a German attack which included tanks. When asked what makes VC recipients different, he said, "You get in that position where you’ve got to fight. Somebody’s got to fight, you can’t all sit around. They’ve got a job to do."
Time to turn the coach around and head back north, to Villanova di Bagnacavallo. The Canadians fought right through these little villages, while contending with one river crossing after another. Read Mark Zuehlke's most recent book The River Battles for an amazing account.
We stop for a coffee and then walk up the street to Villanova Canadian War Cemetery, a very small but poignant place where just 212 of our boys await a visit. We usually encounter some wonderful local villagers here, who are eager to meet Canadians and, despite language differences, tell everyone how grateful they are for their freedom.
Our half day of battlefield touring is done, we have earned a break. We head back to Ravenna where you have a free afternoon to explore and find lunch.
In the mid-afternoon, optionally and at no extra charge, those who choose it can join a private walking tour in Ravenna to see some of the world famous mosaics, with our local expert as your personal guide. It's a fascinating insight into the history of this small but important city.
We settle in for a second and final evening in Ravenna. Tomorrow, we are on the road to our final destination ... for two days of world famous awesomeness!
The weather is looking great again today ... sunny and 17C. We're heading up the Adriatic Coast, here is our route. We'll be stopping at points C and D on the Gothic Line, and onward to Ravenna for the evening. We should be sitting down for lunch right around noon.
We'll be on the road for a few hours at the start of the day, with a nature break along the route as always. Phil and Mark will be providing some historical briefings on the coach, and we'll also provide some quiet time to rest, organize photos, add to your journal, etc.
Our first stop is a monument at "Point 204," a location on the allied battle maps from which it takes its name. This is the Gothic Line, a German defensive line that stretches from east to west in the hopes of bringing the allied advance to a halt. The monument at Point 204 is simple but impressive, and the location gives a commanding view across the countryside.
It's now time for a lunch break nearby. We usually visit in Tavullia. From here we drive a short distance northeast for a visit to Gradara War Cemetery. Each of the Commonwealth War Cemeteries is designed to adapt to the local landscape, while retaining as much as possible the overall design features of the original concepts from back in WWI. Gradara is a unique location with its stepped terraces.
Our final stretch on the road today lasts just over an hour, bringing us to the lovely little town of Ravenna for two nights. Ravenna was an important city 1500+ years ago, you can read all about it here. The old center of the city is magical.
We've covered a bit of ground today, but this gets us nicely up into the northern regions to see some more great things. Tomorrow is a half-day, with free time in the afternoon to rest and explore.
Today we would be departing Rome nice and early, and heading east ... traveling across the width of Italy to the Adriatic Coast and the town of Ortona. The forecast for today is clear skies and 20C.
Here's our approximate route, and of course we would stop for a nature break along the way:
When we arrive in the Ortona area, we make several brief stops in order to give a good sense of what happened here in December 1943. The following map includes these points:
B. Moro River Valley outlook point
C. Sterlin's Castle
D. Cider Crossroads & The Gully
E. Casa Berardi
F. Ristorante Miramare
G. The beginning of our little walking tour
H. Moro River Canadian War Cemetery
I. One of the hotels where we often stay on this night
For those of you who enjoy looking around with Google Street View we are including some links below with each point of interest.
First we stop for an overall view of the geography. This is a view looking north, with the Moro River valley running in front of us in a northeast direction toward the sea. It is typical of the difficult terrain the allies must contend with as they march north along the length of Italy. [Google Street View]
Next we visit "Sterlin's Castle" and hear the story of the heroic fight that took place on this spot. Here is the house, and the plaque which commemorates the battle. Mark Zuehlke is standing in the center. [Google Street View]
Our next stop is at "Cider Crossroads," which is easy to find as we have a Sherman Tank to mark the spot! From here we walk a short distance down the street into "The Gully," which is not really something you can show on a photograph. The Gully was an ugly, deadly battle, as you will hear when we are on tour. [Google Street View]
We move onward to another famous house, "Casa Berardi," where another great battle took place. Here is a group shot from a previous tour, taken behind the house. Access to this back area for tour groups is now intermittent as the owners rent out the home as a B&B. You will also see below a photo of the small memorial to the Royal 22nd Regiment. One of their soldiers, Paul Triquet, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his leadership in this battle. He was the first of three Canadians to be awarded the VC during the Italian Campaign. We will visit all three Victoria Cross locations while on tour. [Google Street View]
It's now mid-day, and time stop for some lunch. We get the coach as close as we can to the restaurant, keeping in mind the streets are narrow and many don't have space for our big rig. It's then a short walk to Ristorante Miramare and our host, Fabio. And below is the view from out back of Fabio's establishment. [Google Street View]
Now it's time to walk a couple of the streets, with Mark Zuehlke leading us through some of the battles that took place here in December 1943. We conclude the walk at the Price of Peace monument, created by Canadian sculptor Rob Surette in 1999. [Google Street View]
Our final stop of the day is at the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery, the final resting place of those who fell in the Battle of Ortona and in the weeks before and after. [Google Street View]
We conclude the day at our hotel, usually just up the road from Ortona along the beach but sometimes just a bit further north in the town of Francavilla. And that's it for today. You have now visited Ortona, one of the most famous battle sites for Canada in WWII and the most famous of the Italian Campaign. If you wanted to know more about it, we would highly recommend Mark Zuehlke's book Ortona, a gripping read.
Check back tomorrow as we venture further north.