Sunday, October 10, 2010

Day 7 Race to the train stations, trains, trains, trains Day 8 Massa and the hotel from you know where Day 9 the trip home

Roy makes us tea before we leave, and we jump in the car to Como. We make really good time till the last two miles. Then it's panic time. We jump out of the car and make it to the track that is thankfully the closest to the station ( and we don't have to go up and down steps to get to it). The train arrives about 2 minutes later. We get on and we are fine. We see Jo standing on the platform as we go by.

We get to Milan and want to grab something to eat. Of course the café is Italian time and takes forever. First class is at the very end of train, the furthers from the station. As we are walking to first class, they say it is leaving so we have to jump on first class and walk through 3 2nd class cars, 1 bar car and 1 first class car. We get to our seats and they have the heat on, so Bill is complaining it's roasting hot. We are not in the United States and the standards are different. He goes to stand between cars. The conductor comes and tells me that all the cars are the same. Evidently he has been complaining. Jo said the Italians do not like to be cold.

This is the nicest train we have been on. Free drinks, peanuts, chocolates, newpapers. There is some kind of sound system but I haven't pulled out my headphones to see what is on it. Bill has finally fallen asleep so no complaining for a bit.

We get to Pisa and Marco is there to meet us. He drops us at the Leaning Tower so Bill can see it. We walk back to the car and attempt to find birds. It is just the wrong month for birds.

That night we go to the hotel and get checked in. The hotel is lovely, off the beaten path and has birds chirping! The hotel manager tells Marco of a place we can go to find birds. He tells us that restaurants are not open for dinner until 8. We will be pumpkins long before then. So Marco takes us to a bar and we see pizza next door, so we opt for pizza and go back to the hotel early. The pizza was good.

Day 8 the mountains and back to Milan

We spend the day in the mountains and don't see much. There are marble quarries, a sculptor's house, lovely views but not many birds. We get a sandwich from a place in the middle of nowhere. The bread was fabulous! And so was the cheese. We then go to a city park where there are some birds.

We have Marco drop us at the train station. Everyone there is obsessed with trains that you don't have to change. We are into what gets us there the fastest. Marco wanted us to take one train to get to Pisa when if we took a train an hour and a half later, we got there at the same time. So leaving we got on a train leaving an hour earlier. And if I had not have made a mistake we would have gotten there an hour earlier than the one Marco wanted us to go on. I didn't read the tickets and we got off at the wrong Genova station. But another train was leaving for Milan, and it was only ½ hour longer.

Marco was very expensive not that great of a guide.

When we got to Milan I needed to change some money, so while I was doing that Bill went off to feed the pigeons. I turn around and he is gone. Ends up the cops tried to arrest him because he walked away from his bag. He didn't have his passport because I had it. I had no idea where he was. Fortunately someone else saw what happened and they let him go. We then hop to the bus to the airport. At the airport we take a cab to our hotel because it's late and we don't want to wait for the shuttle, which probably was not running anyway.

We get to the Holiday Inn Express at Milan Malpensa airport. They tell us the shuttle doesn't run until 5:45 and we need to leave at 5. So they will call us a cab. We get to our room and we can't keep the lights on. I can't see to use the phone and have to walk down to the desk. You have to leave your key in a slot which they didn't tell us when we checked in. Then we can't get the air to come on. I call the desk several times before they answer. They tell us we have to shut the window that we never opened and they will set the thermostat. By this time was have 5 hours before we need to be at the front for the cab. We are not happy. The room was nice and the beds comfortable.

Day 9 Taxi to the plane to the plane to the bus to the car

We take the cab and it's 18 Euros! The one the night before was only 10 and we stayed at the hotel because it was supposed to be free! And they were sending one group on the shuttle. We won't be staying there again.

We get to Paris and walk to the other terminal. There were no buses this time! We had 2 hours before planes and after going through customs and security again, we walk straight into the line for our plane. So no shopping, again! We get on the plane and are pleasantly surprised that we almost fit in our seats and are not as uncomfortable was before. The food was good again!

We get to Houston and our bags are the last ones off the carousel. We get home and the cat sitter did a fabulous job. The cats were happy!! I got unpacked and the laundry done before we died in bed at 6 pm! And when we got home, we had an invitation to Moscow!! We are so excited!!

Day 5, Croce, a suburb of Menaggio, Lenno, Lugano, Day 6 Croce, Osteno, Menaggio

I am up early writing in the journal. I'm enjoying my tea and watching the sun come up. And of course taking pictures.

Roy has been in the UK but will be back tonight, with takeaway curries for Jo. Evidently the food here is good, but every restaurant has the same menu! But not as great as Jo's cooking!

We went to Lenno for coffee/tea/coke and biscuits/brioche. Harry and Sam got to swim in the lake. Then we drove around to Como to get our train tickets for the rest of the trip. Our times were too tight on the way to Como.

We then dropped the dogs at the house and went to Switzerland for petrol. I wanted to get my dad a sudoku book in Italian but we found one in German. Lake Lugano is beautiful and so is the town of Lugano. We saw the Mojito bar and we saw people playing chess with two feet tall figures on the ground.

We had a lovely lunch at a café. Then we walked around the city. The views are spectacular, the city is very clean. Bill has decided we are moving there. I need to remind him how expensive Cokes are. We then went back to the house and Roy arrived back from England. So we drank more wine and ate a lovely pasta casserole.

Day 6 Menaggio, Lake Lugano

Jo made us an typical English breakfast of eggs and English bacon (very similar to Canadian bacon) and chocolate chip pastries.

Bill was a told a place to go bird in the mountains, so we attempted to find it. We had a lovely drive through the mountains but it would have been too long for Roy to come back and get us. So we went to a town at Lake Lugano called Osteno and hiked up a road into the woods, but it was not very birdy. This is not a tourist town and I loved it! Osteno is so quaint and quiet We sat and had cappuccinos and cokes at a lakeside café.

Then we went back to the house while Bill walked around looking for birds. When he came back we drove down the hill to Menaggio for gelato and walking the dogs. We found the Italian Sudoku book for my dad while in town.

We had homemade chicken pie and salad for dinner. Then we watched The Boat That Rocked, known in the United States as Pirate Radio. Great movie, great actors.

It is still bugging me who the actor was in Paris. I have not figured that out yet.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Day 4 Trieste, Venice, Milan, Como, Menaggio

Or The Train to the train to the train to the taxi to the boat to Jo.

We get up early but packing takes longer than expected. We do get to eat breakfast at the hotel. There were pears, yogurt, croissants, rolls, cereal, juice and I finally get my first cup of tea other than the plane.

We go to the train station and I really needed to use the facilities. I go into the restroom and it is a hole in the floor. I wish I had taken a picture. You hold onto a bar and do your business. At first I said I would wait for the train, but then I knew I could not wait. It was not as bad as I thought, but I don't want to repeat the experience. The train to Venice is not one of the nicer trains, but since we took the 8 am train, it is virtually empty and we have plenty of room. Venice is so touristy. This is why I didn't like it much in 1974 when I was in college. But everyone assures me that it is a fabulous city when you get off the tourist track, but we didn't. We walked around and took pictures.

Here is the canal in front of the train station.

The yellow boat is a police boat. I did not get a very good picture.

Someone enjoying a gondola ride.

A view of the town from the train station.

Another town view.

Bill feeding the Italian sparrows pizza.

A boat delivering the goods.

We continued the pizza tour. We ate our pizza slices and cokes on the steps to the train station. Bill fed the Italian sparrows and the pigeons pizza. They are true Italians. We stowed our luggage in the train station so walking around was nice.
Now we are back on the train to Milan! The train to Milan was uneventful. In Milan we switch to the train to Como. The Milan train station is incredibly busy all the time. We get on the train to Como and it is packed. All the tourists are on it. It is a small train too, so getting our bags to fit was interesting, but we did. Glad we only had small bags. We arrive in Como which is very lovely!!

Mountains all around with the beautiful lake! We take a taxi to the ferry terminal. The ride to Menaggio was fun, on the world's slowest hydrofoil.

Nothing like the one I rode on from Denmark to Sweden! We stop at the little picturesque towns and let people off.

We arrive at Menaggio and Jo is waiting for us. As we ascend the mountain to her house, the views are breathtaking. The house is beyond belief. And Jo as usual has seen to every last detail, almost. We had robes and slippers on our bed waiting for us.

The only thing missing was the chocolate on the pillow, but we forgave her for that.

We unloaded the car then immediately took the dogs for a walk up the mountain. The views are even more breathtaking!! Of course I am snapping pictures constantly. There are WWI trenches up the mountain.

We are not quite sure what the soldiers thought they were guarding or who would attack them here. We think they were hiding from the war. But they are quite interesting.

We came back to the house and drank too much wine, had a lovely pasta dinner and enjoyed fabulous company. I took pictures of the sunset. The sun sets behind the house but the mountains across turn red.

And they have had their first snowfall, so it is absolutely gorgeous.

Day 3 Trieste and Birding with Paul Tout

Paul Tout and Domen Stanic arrive to pick us up promptly at 6:30 am. Paul is a Brit that has been living in Italy since the 80's. He is a bird guide for Northeast Italy and Slovenia. Domen is from Slovenia and is 19 going to the university to study Biology. He came along for the ride and we enjoyed both of them very much.

The weather was not the best at times. We got drenched a couple of times. We saw some great birds. There has been a lot of rain in the last two weeks so there was a lot of flooding. We could not get into the mountains where we could see some additional birds. There was a road that was washed about that has been there for 200 years. They have never seen anything like the flooding.

For breakfast Paul has rolls with cheese and jalapeño jelly that were fabulous.. We went to the grocery store and bought lunch for everyone. Sandwiches, good rolls and cheese were the order of the day! The birding was good, the company was even better. If you want a bird guide in Northeast Italy, Paul is the person for you. We would love for him to come to Texas so we could take him around to see the sights. Domen is also invited any time!

When we continued our pizza tour. We wanted to bring pizza back to the room since we were worn out. The place we went the night before was closed. But I found another place. The pizza was good, but not as great as the night before.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Days 1 and 2 Leaving Houston, Arriving in Trieste

The plane to the bus to the bus to the bus to the plane to the bus to the train.

We started out a bit behind, when I looked at the clock it said it was 11:30 and we needed to leave at 12. Neither of us had taken a shower yet. So scramble time occurred. I did get the floors all mopped for the moggies to destroy them again. I forgot we were flying Air France and we would not be standing in the long Continental lines to check bags. However, we made up for it in the ridiculously slow security line. The one in the Continental terminal moves. There was hardly anyone there and it took forever. Ellen got the full body scan and Bill went straight through.

By then we were dead since we had been up since 4:30 when the moggies decided it was time to get up. We wanted Jamba Juice and it is at the end of Terminal E and we were in Terminal D. So I left Bill with the bags and walked to the end of the earth to get Bill Razmatazz and me Mango. They were great! I dropped them off and went back (not too far) for soft pretzels.

Then we load up the plane and that is when our luck ended. We were in less than cattle class. I didn't know Air France has 2 economy classes. We should have paid the difference for the other one. We had no leg room, I am 5'3" and I was cramped. Bill at 6'1" was dying. We were so uncomfortable that we could not sleep, but the food was good. Someone told me the food was bad on Air France the week before we left. She said she couldn't eat it. We had great food. We ordered the pasta and also had a corn and bean salad, roll, chocolate cake with raspberries. For breakfast we had a chocolate chip muffine, yogurt, fruit cocktail and orange juice.

The movies were great. You picked what you wanted, when you wanted to watch them. And you did not have to pay like Continental.

We landed 30 minutes early and our luck ran out. We were at the back of the plane so it took forever to get out. Then the bus to the terminal was full, they put us on a van, and waited forever while talking to an older couple. We finally said we had to go. We will never ever ever ever fly through Charles de Gaulle again. We asked a guy if we could walk to the other terminal and he said it was faster to take the bus. We wait for 15 minutes for the bus. 3 ladies waiting for the bus were also on our flight to Milan. Then we drive for miles to finally get to the other terminal. Then we have to go through immigration! We tell the guy we have 15 minutes till our flight and he says we will make it. Does not take us to the front of the line. It takes us 20 minutes to get through it. but we do get our passports stamped. We then run only to discover we have to go through security again!! They scan your boarding pass and the guy tells us we have missed our flight. Great. Of course Bill sails through and they make me take everything out of my backpack. And then pat me down.

We arrive at gate 25 A to rebook. They tell us that all flights to Milan are cancelled until 6 PM. We found out later there was a bomb found. The 3 ladies get the last 3 seats. So they tell us we have to fly Air Italia at 7:30, but the computer is taking a long time. Of course Bill is pouting because it means we miss our train to Trieste, and will have to cancel the hotel and the bird guide for the next day. The agent tells me to come back in 30 minutes to get boarding passes. Bill is still pouting and I'm coming up with options and he is Mr. Doomsday. So I go back and ask if we can fly into Venice, no luck. Flights are booked.

Meanwhile I see someone that is in the movies but I still can't figure out who he is. I thought he was on 100 Centre Street and then in some movies, but can't find him. IMDB failed me. So I go back and be Ms Persistent. I tell her we have to cancel our hotel, our guide, etc. And suddenly she asks me if it's ok if we fly into the other Milan airport. DUH, yes. So she books us on a 1 PM flight, 5 1/2 hours before the other ladies.

I go shopping. I find this cute store:

We had fantastic macarons and I found cute presents for Becky, Dariel and Kimmie. At first I wouldn't buy them since we really hadn't started vacation, but I went back and got them. Glad I did because I never found anything else I liked. Bill loved the macarons. He said they didn't look like much but tasted great.

We think again that nothing else can go wrong. We are oh so wrong. We go to the gate that is right across from where we were sitting. They put us on ANOTHER BUS. And we get to the plane, they leave us STANDING on the bus for 45 minutes. Evidently there was a mechanical problem. The French and Italians got very irate and were screaming at the bus driver. Finally they load us on the plane. We don't have seats together and I end up with a lady from Africa and her baby. I was very afraid, but the baby slept the whole trip!! She was very nice and spoke only Italian and Spanish. So I could communicate a little in Spanish. I did get some sleep and so did Bill.

We arrive at Milan Malpensa and get our tickets for the bus to the train station, Milano Centrale. It takes an hour and we get a lovely tour of Milan. Then we arrive at the train station. We wander around for an hour trying to find where to get our Eurail passes validated. The documentation said there was a kiosk. It lied. We finally find the right place after asking, get sent to the wrong place, finally get in the right line, get a guy that does not speak English. He sends us to the next person who was very helpful. She tells us the train leaves in 5 minutes. We ask if we can make it, she says yes. We run, up the escalator, pass up people to the other escalator. We ask someone where our car is, we get on, and are not even seated when the train takes off. We were on the train 20 seconds when it took off.

Our seats are fabulous! Bill has never ridden a train before, but loved it. In college I didn't have first class tickets. This is a big difference. We are so comfortable, we have electric plugs. The food cart comes by and brings us food. There is plenty of leg room and we are not yelling at each other about the driving!! Bill napped some.

We get to Trieste and the hotel is 2 blocks away from the train station. We each have one small rolly bag and one backpack so it's a breeze walking the two blocks. We stash our bags in our room which is quite large and nice. We walk down the street and get a fabulous pizza.

Back in the room we email Paul, the guide telling him we are there, we email Jo to tell her we are in Italy. We tell her we are never flying through Charles de Gaulle again. Jo says "lest I remind you, you have to return through Paris." Bill says no, we are going through Japan, it will be faster.

We slept great.