Once again it has been holiday time and an opportunity to visit a beautiful part of the world, that is northern Italy. My wife and I and mother-in-law were to spend a week at Garda Town, on the eastern side of Lake Garda (or Lago di Garda).
My forward planning had consisted of chosing what pens to bring for journaling and deciding upon a Wing Sung 601 (clear demonstrator, vacumatic filler), plus a Kaweco Dia 2 and a Perkeo. Rather than bring bottled ink this time I brought some cartridges for the Kawecos. I also packed a WH Smith exercise book. However, at the last minute, at Stanstead airport, I spotted a soft cover Leuchtturm plain paper journal with elastic loop closure. I stuffed it in my bag and took to the skies feeling like an Ernest Hemingway.
I had also googled “pen shop Verona” and jotted down the name of a shop on the via Mazzini called Manella, to check out when we got there.
Lake Garda, set among the spectacular backdrop of the Dolomites, has a perimeter of 158km (98 miles). Early in our holiday, we joined a coach tour to go all the way round, visiting four of the lakeside towns, Sirmione, Limone, Riva and Malcesine.
Sirmione is located at the tip of a narrow peninsula, on the southern banks of the lake, and famed for its thermal baths, a medieval castle and the remains of a Roman villa. We arrived via a motor launch for the short journey to the tip of the peninsula and cruised into the castle, which was very cool. Busy with tourists on this hot June day, I did stumble across a stationery shop with some attractive fountain pens in the window and went to investigate. I did not recognise any of the brands on display but was drawn to a red resin pen with shiny chrome lattice work around the cap, sold with a converter and a bottle of black ink and one standard cartridge. The brand was La Kaligrafica and at under 30 euros and with a nice steel nib it seemed like a good buy.
Later, inking the pen up with the supplied cartridge, I was quite content with the nib (the ubiquitous “Iridium point, Germany”) but found that the pen was a little short to use unposted. It was clearly designed to have the cap posted, where it sits flush with the barrel. But the problems were (a) the metal furniture on the cap makes the pen a bit top heavy and (b) the cap does not grip securely on the barrel and very easily works loose as you write, which is very irritating. There is a risk of it falling onto a hard floor and breaking or disappearing over a balcony. I tried wedging a scrap of paper under the cap but this did not seem to help. I think this pen is destined for someone with smaller hands who will not need to post the cap.
We travelled up the west side of the lake by coach, passing through many tunnels, built in the 1930s by Mussolini. Lunch was at another pretty town, Limone, before taking a ferry up to Riva on the northern bank, from where there were marvellous views down the lake. Having some free time to explore Riva, I found another stationery shop, selling leather bound journals, ornate glass handled dip pens (with steel nibs) for calligraphy or for display and a few inexpensive Italian fountain pens geared for the tourist trade at between 20 to 30 euros. I was able to resist these.
The final visit on the lake tour was Malcesine on the eastern side, with another castle and also boasting a cable car to the top of Mount Baldo. The cable car gondola is round and actually revolves very slowly as it ascends. (We returned to do the cable car trip another day).
The lake tour was a very good start to our holiday, giving a good introduction and a taster, to plan trips by ferry during the rest of the week.
Later in the week we took a bus to Verona which is only an hour away. The bus terminates in the centre of the city right next to the impressive arena, a Roman amphitheatre, still used as a venue for opera. The scenery for a performance of Aida was laid out in the square.
We walked down the via Mazzini, the pedestrian shopping street which takes you from the arena to the piazza delle Erbe, a beautiful square with a bustling market.
I found the Manella pen shop, under a Pelikan sign! Unfortunately it was closed so I was resigned to missing it this time. I had to content myself with pressing my nose up to the windows and taking a few photos (marred by reflections from the busy street) of the displays of Pelikans, Auroras, Delta, Montegrappa and other delights.
However, after spending some time exploring Verona, including a visit to the casa di Giuletta (the “house” of Shakespeare’s Juliet) and the impressive Cathedral, we passed the pen shop again and this time it was open! The very cordial proprietor told me that this shop had been here since 1940 and run by his father before him. On telling him that I was keen on fountain pens he kept getting things out to show me,such as a Montegrappa Fortuna although I had to tell him that I had one already.
I was interested to try an Aurora, not having owned one and he showed me the Aurora Ipsilon Deluxe, in red resin with a gold nib. However, he had some more colours and models in his other, larger shop, literally just around the corner and together we walked around to look at some more pens.
There he also had an Aurora Ipsilon Lacca, the metal lacquer version, in a new dark blue and black finish and also with a gold nib, which looked to be rhodium plated with matching furniture. This I chose as my souvenir from Verona. Oh, and I spotted a display of “Pelikano Up” pens and one of those went home with me as well.
Back in London, I filled the Aurora, rather unimaginatively with Aurora blue. It is a smallish pen but weighs a solid 31.5g. It is short when uncapped, at around 118mm, but the cap posts well with a secure click.
My Fine nib version wrote well. But the nib is small and firm without much give. I was also a bit troubled by what looked like rows of tiny mysterious scratches right across the mid part of the nib, from edge to edge, although only visible with a loupe. Also the nib was not precisely centred over the feed and I have not yet figured out how to remove the nib and line it up more symmetrically. However neither of these issues affects writing performance.
I must confess, that I did find the pen a bit bland, particularly matched with royal blue ink. I then flushed it and refilled it with Monteverde Napa Burgundy, which has injected some more life into it. I think it is a decent pen but on reflection, I enjoyed the buying experience more than the pen itself. Perhaps it is just that I am “penned out” at the moment and spoilt from a surfeit of other very satisfying aquisitions in recent weeks. I had been happier with the Montegrappa Fortuna and Pineider Avatar pens bought earlier this year, two Italian pens which both have steel nibs.
Finally, the modest Wing Sung 601 served me well on the trip, as did the Leuchtturm journal. After about 35 pages the Wing Sung (with its fine nib) still had half a fill of ink remaining and I had no need of my two Kawecos or spare cartridges which came to Italy for the ride.