Travelling with ink: Lake Garda revisited.

I have just spent a very enjoyable week’s holiday at Lake Garda, the largest of the Italian lakes. Some readers may remember that I wrote last July about my first visit there and my experiences of scouting for pen shops in the area, Travelling with ink: pen shopping in Lake Garda.

This year, my wife and I stayed in Sirmione, a town in a spectacular location at the tip of a peninsula, at the southern end of the lake. For me, a holiday begins with the happy task of deciding what fountain pens to bring, as I contemplate writing my journal whilst abroad. This time, I chose a Visconti van Gogh Starry night as it was my most recent acquisition (bought from a friend at our pen club), plus a Montblanc Meisterstuck 145 Classique, simply because I rather liked the idea of adopting this as my foreign travel pen, having brought it with me to Dubai in February. For ink, I had Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue cartridges for the van Gogh, whilst the Classique was loaded with Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet red.

As for the notebook, I almost brought a Silvine exercise book but could not face being without a Leuchtturm A5 journal, as I prefer the paper. The book is worth the extra weight. Also the hard covers make it more convenient for writing on your knee if necessary.

I had almost forgotten just how beautiful this area is. Tired from the busyness of work and a ridiculously early start for the 6 o’clock flight I was unprepared to find myself in the Italian summer heat, dazzling sunshine and 360 degree beauty on reaching the lake shore towns.

The castle at Sirmione, Lake Garda.

Later, on exploring Sirmione, I was pleased to find the stationery shop Cartoleria Benzoni in the centre of the touristy area, where I had bought a pen last year. I enjoyed the shop window displays and one fountain pen in particular caught my eye.

This was an attractive pen in metal and Maple wood, the barrel being fluted, similar to a Diplomat Aero. I noted from the window display that there were threads for the shiny chrome cap. It had a steel nib, was a cartridge converter pen and at 56 euros, was a pleasing holiday purchase. I learned later that the brand, Vittorio Martini was established in 1866 in Bologna and that this model is the Col Disore. As it turned out, I used the pen for most of the week, until the supplied black cartridge finished.

Vittorio Martini, Col Disore fountain pen.

I had learned from my experience here in 2018 that there were not many pen shops in the towns around the lake and that for higher priced brands, you need to visit one of the cities. We were located about mid way between Verona and Brescia. Having visited Verona last time, we decided to venture off to Brescia for a day.

It was well worth the visit. Much quieter than Verona, the city has many beautiful piazzas, churches, an old and a new cathedral, (literally side by side) and a splendidly elegant loggia, offering shade and a welcome cool breeze as you explore the many excellent shops.

I was pleased to discover F.Apollonio, a long established stationery and pen shop where I was shown a glass counter full of interesting pens, old and new. I skimmed over the modern Parker pens, but asked to see some of the older ones, which the young lady told me were from previous collections. I handled two lovely Parker Duofold pin-stripe pens, one blue, one green, marked at 850 euros. The nibs looked gorgeous. I also saw a row of unusual Parkers, which I had not come across before. She informed me that these were the Parker Ellipse. I read later that they were produced only for a short time, from 2000 to 2002 and so are rather rare. These were priced at around 400 euros. Finally, I saw an Omas, a piston filler in a faceted dark green celluloid. I do not know the name. This too was outside my holiday budget! But the lady was happy to show all these to me and glad of an appreciative audience. She told me that the shop also sells online.

F. Apollonio stationery shop, Brescia.

After a look around the cathedrals, I spotted another pen shop, called Rossi. Here I picked up a couple of Pelikan school pens (in rather garish colour schemes) at 8 euros each and a box of cartridges. I then asked to see one of the Aurora fountain pens in the display case, which had a black barrel and gleaming chrome cap. It was an Ipsilon, steel nib version at 100 euros. Sensing my interest, things swiftly escalated and the lady showed me a similar model but in silver and with a gold nib. Next she produced an Aurora Talentum in black with chromium (or perhaps rhodium) plated fittings and a 14 gold nib. This was significantly larger than the Ipsilons and felt very comfortable in the hand, having a much broader grip section. The screw cap could be posted too if desired although the pen was a good length unposted. My resistance was weakening by then and I came very close to parting with 320 euros to take this home with me. However, my wife reminded me that I had a lot of good pens already, including the van Gogh bought just a few weeks earlier. True enough. This was over my limit for an impulse buy with no research and had not even been on my radar or found its way to my wish list. And so I walked away bravely, with my two Pelikan school pens. The reckless have more fun.

Rossi stationery shop, Brescia.

My only other pen purchase of the week was another Pelikan, but a ball point pen which I spotted while scouring the back shelves of a newsagents’ in a place called Colombare. This was a twist-action model in a very pretty pearlescent finish and is called the Jazz Elegance (as opposed to the Jazz Classic and the Jazz Velvet). My wife and I had one each.

Pelikan Jazz Elegance, ball pen.

Returning home, it was good to find my pen cups and the twenty or so currently inked pens that I had not taken with me. A final exercise after a holiday is to try them all out to see which “hard start” after a week’s rest. Most did commendably well, except for a couple which had barely any ink remaining.

I have not forgotten the Aurora Talentum but it will first have to take its place on my wish list. I have to admit that my wife is of course right, that I do indeed have a lot of excellent pens already and it is a joy to rediscover them after a short break away.

Lake Garda. 370 square kilometres.

15 thoughts on “Travelling with ink: Lake Garda revisited.

  1. Ah what a lovely trip Rupert! And what a treat to visit some proper brick and mortar pen shops. Your fluted wooden pen looks really nice — I’ve never heard of that brand before. Well done resisting the temptation of the Auroras. I had a Talentum for a while and I can confirm that it’s a really good sized pen, very comfortable. I’m always surprised how little attention it gets online.

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    1. I was very taken with the Talentum, simply for its shape and comfort and understated looks. I did not get as far as trying the nib, which would be the key consideration. I have read varying reports on how smooth or feedbacky they can be.

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      1. I’ve had five Aurora nibs, and tried a couple of others. I’d say they’re closest to Sailor in feedback, but in my experience they run drier than I prefer. One nib of five (on a Talentum actually) wrote so badly I had to return it. Definitely the sort of pen to try before you buy!

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    1. Thank you! It’s an Italian brand that was new to me as well. The nib was a typical medium stainless steel, ‘Iridium point, made in Germany’ but wrote well and the pen is well made. Not the most comfortable but fun to use.

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  2. I’m learning so much about pens from you. I was in the pen shop in Sirmione last month where I bought a lovely convertible pen at a reasonable price. Your description of you pen shopping in the area makes me want to return just to savour F.Apollonia. Will be looking up the Van Gogh pen and the notebook. Are there such things as pen clubs? I have to investigate.

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    1. Thank you Diane. The Italian lakes area is certainly one to return to. We met a couple in our hotel who were on their fourth stay. It is fun to seek out the pen shops in Italy and I also search online before I visit a new city. I learned that Cartoleria is the word for stationery shop! And yes pen clubs certainly do exist. I go to one in London, UK, a once a month meet up where we try out each other’s pens and share our common interest and experience. Do get in touch if you are in London and would like details. Some of us also attend a South of England meet up in Fleet, Hampshire.

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  3. Sounds like you had a great trip, thanks for sharing, and I hope you enjoy your new purchases!

    Your tale has put me in mind of my first Italian trip, when the Euro had not arrived to simplify such things. Italy was sill using the Lire, and there were several million of them to a lot less pounds sterling. To cut a long story short, I bought a beautiful cashmere sweater from a rather nice shop in Oderzo, in northern Italy, only to find–once I saw my credit card bill–that it was nearer to five-hundred pounds sterling, than the one-hundred and fifty that I had thought. We live and learn. The sweater doesn’t fit me any more alas, but my eldest daughter looks truly stunning in it.

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    1. Thanks Paul. The exchange rate mix-up is easily done. But your story has a happy ending and I am glad that the cashmere sweater is still in use! Nowadays it is safe to reckon on the euro being roughly the same as our pound, and then to be pleasantly surprised when the credit card bill comes, that things cost slightly less than you thought:)

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