And now the end is here

Our last full day and it started dull and damp but just got better all day.

We walked along the promenade all the way to the Chateau de Chillon and the whole way we marvelled at the beautiful flower borders and lush vegetation.  Although it was after 10 we were the only ones around and wondered if they sleep late here or has the holiday season finished?  Very eerie.

11 Oct 2014 - Montreux Promenade
11 Oct 2014 – Montreux Promenade

The Chateau is stunning as it sits on a little island  at the side of the lake and it looked even better as the wonderful old paddle steamer slid gently into view.  It looked so nice we decided to take it to the next stop.

11 Oct 2014 - Chateau Chillon, Montreux with PS Vevey approaching
11 Oct 2014 – Chateau Chillon, Montreux with PS Vevey approaching

Once on board the Vevey we knew that 10 minutes was not long enough to appreciate its beauty so we decided to go out again later in the day.  Whilst we were looking round I asked the maitre’d what time he finished serving expecting him to say about 3pm.

“We have finished,” he grunted at me.

“But it is only 1pm.”

“What do you want?” I knew when I was beaten.  What a missed opportunity for them as even though the boat was quiet I am sure lots of people would have had lunch.

11 Oct 2014 - PS Vevey dining room - not available on our cruise!!
11 Oct 2014 – PS Vevey dining room – not available on our cruise!!

We bought first class tickets which allows you upstairs where there are deck chairs outside (which we used to our great delight) and a smart looking bar.  We were looking forward to a light lunch there  but once again we were unlucky.  I asked what food they had to offer and she pointed to the crisps and the croissants:

“Those or those.”

Charming.  She obviously missed out on the customer service module in her training.

11 Oct 2014 - PS Vevey 1st class bar
11 Oct 2014 – PS Vevey 1st class bar

Despite that we loved our two hour trip on the lake as the weather was better and we lapped up the sun from our chairs and watched as the mountain tops came into view.  We admired the giant paddles and I reminisced about days on the Clyde steamers with my family and how Dave and I loved to go to the engine room.

11 Oct 2014 - PS Vevey 1st class sundeck
11 Oct 2014 – PS Vevey 1st class sundeck
11 Oct 2014 - PS Vevey paddles
11 Oct 2014 – PS Vevey paddles

The boat was immaculate from top to bottom and even the toilets past my strict criteria. In fact Switzerland has been as squeaky clean as we had been led to believe. But the graffiti- well that is another matter.

11 Oct 2014 - PS Vevey wheelhouse and 1st class deck lounge
11 Oct 2014 – PS Vevey wheelhouse and 1st class deck lounge
11 Oct 2014 - PS Vevey staircase to 1st class deck.
11 Oct 2014 – PS Vevey staircase to 1st class deck.

So it is our last night of holidays and we finished in good style, albeit accidentally.  We were looking for a restaurant in the old town of Montreux when we chanced on a little jazz bar.  Dark and empty apart from one couple it looked intimidating but we decided to give it a go.

11 Oct 2014 - Ancienne Poste jazz bar, Montreux old town
11 Oct 2014 – Ancienne Poste jazz bar, Montreux old town

An Argentinian band were due to start playing so we bought a bottle of wine and the only snacks they could offer us (did not have much luck with food today.)  Luckily a few more turned up as we were beginning to wonder if we had found ourselves in the wrong sort of club.

11 Oct 2014 - Ancienne Poste jazz bar - Argentinian band - Montreux old town
11 Oct 2014 – Ancienne Poste jazz bar – Argentinian band – Montreux old town

The band were good, especially the drummer and the guitarist.  The double bass player had the longest fingers we have ever seen.  The leader of the band was a flautist and I must say once you have heard one or two songs with a flute as lead they all gel into one.  I longed for the solos of guitar or drums and quite honestly after two hours I could have killed off the band leader.  To distract myself from this thought I turned to trying to remember the name of someone Mel and I knew 20 years ago.  Hurrah by the end of the night Hosi’s name had come back.

There was no charge for the night I was told when I asked in my broken French (this was the first place we had come across in Switzerland where they did not speak any English.)  At the end of the night there was a flat cap to put our contribution in.

By this time I was desperate to eat and we decided to get room service but lo and behold we had missed it by ten minutes.  And the bar food too.  Grrrr.

Our last day looks like having beautiful weather, our train is at 12.19 so we can enjoy part of it.

12 Oct 2014 - Sunrise over Lake Leman (or Geneva), Montreux
12 Oct 2014 – Sunrise over Lake Leman (or Geneva), Montreux

Swimming pools and islands

I had requested some free time this morning and as it was damp again    we decided to go to the pool.  What a treat the pool here is.  It is dark with mood lighting and gentle music,  The floor of the pool is like sand with starfish and shell embedded into it and it was warm enough not to get that yikes feeling as your tender parts hit the water.  It was also full of buttons to press and various water features but sadly the huge thunder cloud above did not work. We swam for ages and I particularly enjoyed the jet of water which could propel me almost to the end of the pool.

9 Oct 2014 - Hotel Regina Palace, Stresa - swimming pool
9 Oct 2014 – Hotel Regina Palace, Stresa – swimming pool

The sun almost came out so we took a ferry to Isola Bella and looked at the rather too ornate (for my liking)  gardens there.  We also went into the villa which is very beautiful with its views from most windows across the lake.  They certainly knew where to build their houses in those days.

9 Oct 2014 - Isola Bella
9 Oct 2014 – Isola Bella
9 Oct 2014 - Isola Bella garden
9 Oct 2014 – Isola Bella garden
9 Oct 2014 - Isola Bella garden
9 Oct 2014 – Isola Bella garden
9 Oct 2014 - Isola Bella garden
9 Oct 2014 – Isola Bella garden
9 Oct 2014 - Isola Bella garden
9 Oct 2014 – Isola Bella garden

Lunch in the cafe in the gardens was most enjoyable and Mel discovered a local beer which he really enjoyed.  We ate yet more cheese and maybe that is why I am writing this at 3.30am.

A reviving massage, another swim, a walk in the now pouring rain for dinner and that was Stresa.  There were more people around yesterday but my lasting impression of here will be of the dearth of visitors.  I wonder when the season ends here and do all the hotels close for the winter?

Tomorrow is an early start and a two hour trip to Montreaux.

The Room with a View

When we looked at our grand old hotel on the lake Maggiore front yesterday I said to Mel that I wanted the room on the top floor on the right hand corner.  It just looked such a perfect room so imagine my surprise when we opened the door and it was that very one.  Two little balconies and a table on one of them and a perfect view of the lake.  Magic.

Room with a view - Hotel Regina Palace, Stresa - 8 Oct 2014
Room with a view – Hotel Regina Palace, Stresa – 8 Oct 2014

I did not want to move but then we never let the grass grow under our feet and the rain had stopped so we took a boat on the lake to Villa Taranto.  A famous garden designed by a Scotsman it is on the list of the best gardens in Italy.  It did not disappoint.  We only had an hour and a half before the boat back and had to rush round but we saw it all and it is amazing.

8 Oct 2014 - Villa Toranto, Lake Maggiore
8 Oct 2014 – Villa Toranto, Lake Maggiore
8 Oct 2014 - Villa Toranto, Lake Maggiore
8 Oct 2014 – Villa Toranto, Lake Maggiore
8 Oct 2014 - Villa Toranto, Lake Maggiore
8 Oct 2014 – Villa Toranto, Lake Maggiore
8 Oct 2014 - Villa Toranto, Lake Maggiore
8 Oct 2014 – Villa Toranto, Lake Maggiore

We went for tea at the little cafe after our visit as we had 15 mins to spare.  They waited until we had thought about what we wanted and asked before saying very rudely they were closed.  We were miffed but all was well when we got on the boat ( there were only six others aboard ) and the bar was open.  So we enjoyed a beer and a bag of crisps and told them  where they could put their tea!

Stresa seems to have been emptied of people and is very very quiet.  This is particularly obvious after the hustle and bustle of the rest of Italy.  It has a faded glory about it and our hotel is definitely one of the grandest we have stayed in.  All sweeping curtains, ornate decoration and silver teapots.  There is a dairy conference on at the moment so the hotel itself is busy.

There are many ruined villas in the area which leads me to think Stresa had had its day.  Some of them are so beautiful and in an odd way maybe more so in their ruination.  The two next to the hotel are prime examples.

9 Oct 2014 - Derelict villa - Stresa
9 Oct 2014 – Derelict villa – Stresa
9 Oct 2014 - Derelict villa - Stresa
9 Oct 2014 – Derelict villa – Stresa

I had forgotten that Hemingway set part of one of my favourite books, Farewell to Arms here in Stresa.

Our meal last night was very good but eaten in a quiet , stuffy restaurant and I missed the liveliness of previous nights.

More train tales

Up early to catch the 7.46 to Milan but found that the American party were also up at the crack of dawn and so breakfast was far from quiet. This hotel was ok and very near the station but we had emailed ahead to ask for an upgrade and still the room was small and dark with a view over the back alley.  The bathroom was big and modern and it had a bath which always gets my vote.

The train came in a little late and the platform was crowded so we had a slight panic as we did not know which end the first class carriage would be.  But by now we knew to stand at the other side of the platform so that if we had to run for it we got a clear pathway.  This time we were lucky and it was near the front and we did not have far to go.  Imagine our delight when we found it was a nice train with old fashioned compartments.

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For the first section we only had a couple of business men in with us and then an American couple got in and told us that I was in their seat.  We said that we were nos 51 and 52 but she insisted that she was 52 and that I should move.  I did happily as she said she wanted to be next to her husband.  She never spoke to him again until just before they had to move.

There was not buffet car and no trolley service again which made us appreciate our trains back home.  Talking of trains I was rather upset to see that Scotrail is going to be run by a Dutch firm.

Then at the next stop a young man got in and insisted I was in his seat.  I explained it was not my seat actually and that he should discuss it with the American woman.  She (who had a face like the proverbial slapped arse) then demanded to see our tickets.  Now by this time the ticket inspector had been round and passed us all as ok.

The husband of said woman then said that they should have been in coach 2 not 1.  With no apology or real thanks to Mel for lifting their cases down they left us in peace.

At Milan we had half an hour but that was not time enough to get a coffee or go to the loo as it was too busy.  the architecture of Milan is fantastic.

8 Oct 2014 - Milan Station
8 Oct 2014 – Milan Station
8 Oct 2014 - Milan Station
8 Oct 2014 – Milan Station

We were pleased to see we were on a flash Swiss train but then less than pleased when one of the  rogue porters grabbed our luggage before we could stop him and demanded money with menaces.  Mel did not relent and gave him the bare minimum.

8 Oct 2014 - Toilet on Swiss train from Milan to Stresa
8 Oct 2014 – Toilet on Swiss train from Milan to Stresa
8 Oct 2014 - Interior of Swiss train from Milan to Stresa
8 Oct 2014 – Interior of Swiss train from Milan to Stresa

This train did have a trolley service and we could have had a full meal (at cost) or just a sandwich or drink.  We were only on for 45 minutes so we had  a coffee.

By the way the journey went by in a wash of rain and more rain and then even more rain but by the time we got to Stresa it was merely misty and damp.

A short walk to our hotel, Regina Palace which looked great from the outside.  But more of that later when I have had my gin and tonic.

8 Oct 2014 - Hotel Regina Palace, Stresa
8 Oct 2014 – Hotel Regina Palace, Stresa
8 Oct 2014 - View from balcony - Hotel Regina Palace, Stresa
8 Oct 2014 – View from balcony – Hotel Regina Palace, Stresa

Cinque Terre – Day 2

7 Oct 2014 - Footbridge to La Spezia Marina
7 Oct 2014 – Footbridge to La Spezia Marina

We started the day with a walk to the harbour to see the boats and we came across this beautiful bridge.

7 Oct 2014 - View of La Spezia from marina
7 Oct 2014 – View of La Spezia from marina

Next stop was the train station again and the short trip to Vernazza where we had lunch right near the harbour.  It was a dull day with afew spots of rain but we still ate outside.  We ordered fish soup which arrived in a huge wok and it was met with wide eyes from the other diners.  It was our most expensive meal to date but it was worth it as it was chock full of whole fish, prawns, mussels and welks all in a very tasty tomato sauce.  Brilliant.

When we first sat down there was a group of Americans at the next table.  One of them had one of those deep drawls that gets into your brain.  She kept debating whether they should go elsewhere to eat even though they had already tucked into the bread and olive oil and were drinking wine.  After a full 15 minutes they got up and left.

We got chatting to the couple next to us who were also American and doing a grand tour.  They recommended a hotel in Monterossa called the Colonnina and later in the day we went to check it out for future stays.

7 Oct 2014 - Vernazza harbour
7 Oct 2014 – Vernazza harbour

http://www.filmon.com/tv/api/channel/14?session_key=b3363d39ff71c48c70bd2537ab210aa0&quality=low

 

7 Oct 2014 - Manarola
7 Oct 2014 – Manarola

After lunch we went Manarola and had a walk around the headland.  We decided not to go to the last of the five towns, Corniglia as it had 377 steps from the station to the town.

7 October 2014 - Manarola from cliff foot path
7 October 2014 – Manarola from cliff foot path

After a rest back at our hotel (Firenze et Continentale) we went back on the train to Monterosso and after some faffing and dithering had pizza for dinner.

On the way there we helped an American couple who did not get on the train at 5.01 because it “was not going.”  I hope I did not sound too sarcastic when I said that it was not going because it was not time to go.

A  Chinese girl got on and screamed with horror when her friend did not get on with her and she got out at the next station still looking very upset.

The trains between the five towns run frequently but they were extremely busy each time we got on them.  I had no idea that this was such a popular place, mostly for people hiking the paths.  The two easy ones are still closed following landslides and i heard a few people talking about the other walks and saying they were much harder than advertised. Maybe next time we will do some of them.

Back to the hotel (which is the closest yet to a station) to pack up for our trip to Stresa tomorros.

 

 

Cinque Terre – Day 1

6 Oct 2014 - Looking back to Manrola from train
6 Oct 2014 – Looking back to Manrola from train

Tuesday (yesterday ) has been my favourite day so far this holiday.  As soon as we arrived in La Spezia we bought our Cinque Terre tickets which cover trains, buses and footpaths.  Without unpacking( a first for Mel) we set off all the way along the line to Monterosso.  I had read that the train journey was boring as most of the trip is in tunnels.  And yes it is at time ,but oh that first moment when you come out of the tunnel at Riomaggiore and for a fleeting few seconds you see the rocky coastline.  Then it is gone again. Then it is back. Today when that moment arrived the whole train gasped together at the sheer beauty of that little diorama.  After that there are a series of windows through which you get a view before each village in turn is shown in all its glory.

6 Oct 2014 - Monterosso Beach
6 Oct 2014 – Monterosso Beach

It was another clear blue sky day and so we had a walk and a drink in a beach bar and I was sorely tempted to have a massage but did not have my swimmers with me.

We walked along to look for the boats and came across the wonderful

6 Oct 2014 - Selfie on Monterosso  Beach
6 Oct 2014 – Selfie on Monterosso Beach

statue you see below of a man holding up the cliffs.

6 Oct 2014 - Carved figure supporting bridge - Monterosso
6 Oct 2014 – Carved figure supporting bridge – Monterosso

As the forecast for the next day was not good we decided to take one of the ferrry boats all the way back to Monterosso so that we could see all five towns from the sea. There was a big queue for the 5pm ferry which was the last of the day at this time of year but we got on and had a prime seat right at the front.  Now I would not have chosen that seat if there had been any swell but it was flat calm and we had an amazing trip stopping off to let people off and on.  One silly woman waited until we had left the dock and then rushed up and demanded that the crew went back and let her off.  They did it but they were not happy.  Neither were we happy with the pratt that stood up all the way and blocked our view and everyone else’s.

6 Oct 2014 - Ferry at Monterosso
6 Oct 2014 – Ferry at Monterosso

 

Corniglia from ferry
Corniglia from ferry

Each of the towns is stunning, set as they are on the cliff sides but our favourite from the sea was Vernazza.

6 Oct 2014 - Vernazza from ferry
6 Oct 2014 – Vernazza from ferry

 

6 Oct 2014 - Vernazza from ferry
6 Oct 2014 – Vernazza from ferry

 

6 October 2014 - Riomaggiore
6 October 2014 – Riomaggiore

At Riomaggiore we went to two different bars and at the second one watched the sunset while we listened to the waves lapping against the cliffs.

A perfect day.

6 Oct 2014 - Sun going down - Riomaggiore
6 Oct 2014 – Sun going down – Riomaggiore

 

6 Oct 2014 - Sunset at wine bar in Riomaggiore
6 Oct 2014 – Sunset at wine bar in Riomaggiore

 

En route to Cinque Terre

We have just left Rome station for La Spezia and we are 14 minutes late.

image image

Just checked out the toilets for David (he always asks how they are) but they were the usual standard of UK trains although they were big enough to swing a cat.  Every train we have been on has been different and I have had a job working out where the flush is (foot pedal, next to cistern or above the sink) and how to get soap and water.  The soap in this one was black and foul smelling.

 

Train to La Spezia arriving at Roma Termini
Train to La Spezia arriving at Roma Termini
On board the train to La Spezia
On board the train to La Spezia – note strange lady sitting next to Gill

As the train approached we did not know where coach 1 would be (so far on the trip it has been marked on the electronic board.)  Mel went to ask someone and was told it would either be at the front or the back.  Yes thank you, very useful.

The woman I mentioned in my last blog kept her coat on the whole four hours( she got off at our stop) and there was a vague odour of moth balls and unwashed bodies emanating from her.

We were right and there was no trolley service or buffet car.

I passed the time listening to Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film review podcast and looking out the window.  We saw the leaning tower of Pisa and after there the scenery became more and more interesting and dramatic. We passed marble mountain and numerous white marble factories.

La Spezia station and town is much bigger than we anticipated. At the station we visited the Cinque Terre tourist office and bought our passes. More later.

Goodbye 7 hills, hello 5 lands

Yesterday was one of my favourite days of this holiday.  Luckily I was feeling better and we went out for a walk before we took the taxi to the station.  We went to the nearby church of Santa Maria del Popolo  and just managed a look round inside before the 8am mass started.  It is extremely ornate and quite beautiful apart from the rather grim skull statue near the door which seemed at odds with the rest of the place.

From there we walked to the Spanish steps through streets emptied of the shoppers Mel encountered the previous nights. I had wondered what was special about the steps but when you see them like that there is no doubt about their appeal.  The views from the top are breath taking especially in the low early morning sunlight.  Everywhere we looked we saw another old building we did not know and by now I had almost fallen for Rome but it will always take second place to Florence.

Our free transfer to the station was easy and scare free and took half the time it took on arrival.

Rome station is huge and I was delighted to find an international bookstore.  We bought the usual sandwiches as many of the trains do not have buffet cars and that proved the case with this one.  It seems ridiculous to have people travelling  six hours without any form of catering.

As I waited on the platform for the train to arrive I became aware of a woman very close to me.  The more i moved the closer she got and i was quite freaked out as i thought she was trying to steal from me.  Imagine my face when she ended up sitting in the seat next to me.  What a bizarre coincidence.

I think I missed Rome

We went out early Sunday morning as we had been told that the Coliseum was free and we hoped to beat the crowds.  However when we arrived quarter of an hour before opening it was extremely busy.  For some reason you still had to queue for a free ticket but we were soon inside this monster structure and gasping at its delights along with a few thousand others.  We did manage to get to one area before the hoards arrived and it was cool and peaceful.  But that was it for the day -after that the crowds were unbelievable and the heat exhausting. I cannot say that it was one of the better days of the holiday.  Yes, it was great to walk round the Palatine hill and see treasure after treasure and the Coliseum was more dramatic than I had imagined.imageI
image We both loved the Vittorio Emanuel building (the one that is nicknamed the wedding cake) with its chariots on the top and amazing steps and statues.imageimage

We had a wonderful long lunch off the beaten track in the Piazza Margana at a very nice restaurant, La Taverna degli Amici ,before heading back to the hotel.

Mel went to see the Spanish steps, they were extremely busy, Mel wondered why he was so popular. I will need to come back and see them and many other things we missed.

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The hotel room has been noisy and dark and it is a shame that I have had to spend so much time here. I will not be sad to leave this morning.