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Photo Safari to the south of France, the Italian Rivera and the Swiss Alps

Photo Safari to the south of France, the Italian Rivera and the Swiss Alps

Sep 7th, 2013, 06:24 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,524
Great stuff---we seem to enjoy the same places.

Many years ago I spent a morning in Tourette and said then that it was my favorite village in that region.

Your TR is a classic and a wecome addition to the archives. And, your images are superb. Thanks again.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Sep 7th, 2013, 07:34 AM
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 6,329
Your report about parking and HAUTE CAGNE reminded us of the most unusual parking experience we've had anywhere.

After driving to the top of Haute Cagne to see the Grimaldi Museum the parking was car to car full until we arrived at what looked like a car wash garage door.

You drove your car into the 1 stall garage, got out and entered a small booth on the side and got a ticket. Then another garage door at the front of your car opened and a gigantic fork lift slid under your car and took it away down into the mountain where the cars were parked like in shelves.

We thought sure we'd never see this rental car again. In returning to another booth later, sure enough, the garage door opened and the huge fork lift returned our car-------
absolutely amazing!

Has anyone else ever experienced this kind of parking?

Maybe it's normal and we're just wide eyed tourists from a small town in Wisconsin, but it was definitely the most unusual parking we've ever see.

I posted before but must say again how amazing and informative your report and photos are---thanks for taking the time to post the details.
TPAYT is offline  
Sep 7th, 2013, 04:05 PM
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TPAYT - I read about that parking garage - not in as much detail as you just gave, but I was a little apprehensive as I entered the town, that's why I was so determined to fit into that tight space, I was kinda scared about what the garage would be like. But now reading your description it actually sounds like it might have been fun.
isabel is offline  
Sep 7th, 2013, 04:29 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 20,977
Has anyone else ever experienced this kind of parking?

I saw it, or something similar, for the first time in Japan and experienced it in a garage in downtown Barcelona.
Michael is online now  
Sep 7th, 2013, 08:48 PM
Join Date: May 2010
Posts: 58
Your photos are incredible.
sfmurphys is offline  
Sep 8th, 2013, 10:46 AM
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From the South of France to the Italian Riviera

Italy Day 1 (but trip day 19)
– Travel can be hell. I said good bye to my idyllic hotel terrace with the view of the hills west of the Cote d’Azure and left just after 7am, more than enough time I thought to get to Nice and return the car and make the 9am train (and really, even the 9:30 which I thought would have been plenty early to make the train to Genoa). The first 15 minutes from Vence were fine, light traffic, gorgeous view of St Paul in the early morning sunlight. Followed signs for the A8. Until apparently I missed that last one and ended up driving around Cagnes-sur-Mer. Traffic got heavier, the sun was in my eyes, every time I’d find a sign for the A8 it was either in the wrong direction or I’d follow it and end up back where I started. Urrrrrrr. Eventually I found the road I’d been ‘lost’ on when I first arrived three days before, and knew it led to the Nice airport, which I knew was near the road I was aiming for so I followed that. Then I could SEE the Promenade des Anglais but couldn’t get TO it. Eventually did, but going in the wrong direction, which I had to follow for about 5 km till I could turn around – and even then it was probably an illegal U-turn but people in front of me were doing it, including a rather large truck, so what the hell.

Now I just needed to find Boul Gambetta – good thing the hotel guy had told me it was just before Hotel Negresco, and good thing too that I had been to Nice only a few years ago and therefore knew where the Promenade des Anglais and Hotel Negresco (and the train station) were. Found the train station OK but where to return the car? Eventually had to ask as it very easy to miss the tiny Europcar sign directing you to the 6th level of the parking garage which is where you return cars.

Ticket machines in the Nice train station had no English option (that I could find) and did not accept my card. The woman at the ticket window could only sell me a ticket as far as Ventimiglia. So I grabbed a café and croissant and just made the very crowded 9am train. In Ventimiglia I didn’t bother with the ticket machine as there were only about 8 people on the line and I had 58 minutes till my train for Genoa left. Good thing I hadn’t missed that 9am train and taken the 9:25 cause I never would have had time to buy the next ticket. Who knew it could take almost an hour for 8 people to buy train tickets. One family took 15 all by themselves. They opened a second window just when I was next in line (which now extended out the door). Get to the ticket window and she tells me ‘the train is full, I can sell you a ticket but not a seat’. It’s a two hour trip. I decide to take my chances since the next train wasn’t for several more hours. I did end up getting a seat but the train was pretty crowded.

In Genoa the ticket machine DID take my credit card and it was a short wait for the last of my three trains, to Rapallo. This train was the most crowded of all – I, and lots of others, had to sit on the little jump seats in the outside aisle.

I liked RAPALLO the minute I stepped off the train. Even before. The train station, for a town of 35,000 is smaller and scruffier than the one just before it, for S. Margherita L/Portofino with a third the population. Even the five minute walk from the train to the hotel/castle (on the main route, which is far less interesting than other routes I took over the next few days) made me glad to be in Italy. I really loved my two weeks in France, but Italy has a certain buzz (and it’s not just the vespas).

Rapallo has a waterfront (lungomare) every bit as gorgeous as all the other towns on the Italian Riviera but it’s a real town, not just a tourist destination. It’s more of a working class/ family destination than its neighbor Portofino but I loved it. Large enough to have a nice sea side promenade (with the castle), plenty of boats (sailboats, small yachts – there were cruise ships way out past the harbor in the mornings (they seem to be half way between Rapallo and Santa Margherita, which by water are basically right next to each other), lots of restaurant choices, several shopping streets (with real stores, not just tourist places, but not a Hermes in sight). Rapallo’s harbor/marina is actually nicer than Santa Margherita’s since the boats are all at one end, then the beach area, and then the promenade with nothing between it and the sea.

And there was the hotel, right on the water, right next to the incredibly cute 16th century castle, and then I opened the doors to my private balcony and I was right on top of the castle!!! What a view. What a reward for the travel day I’d just endured. Certainly makes it worthwhile.

Rapallo Hotel Italia e Lido Lungomare Castello 1 www.italiaelido.com/eng/ Loved this place! It is right on top of the 16th century castelo which juts out into the sea. I paid extra (10€/night) for a ‘sea view’ and what a view it is. Private balcony over-looking the castle. The hotel itself is wonderful, clean and modern throughout, decent amount of space, AC, lift, free Wi-Fi, mini-fridge. The included breakfast is substantial: yogurts, cereals, breads, juice, fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, scrambled eggs and bacon. Rapallo was not my first choice for a base for my five nights on the Italian Riviera but I’m so glad that this seemed to be the best hotel deal (it was) so I decided to stay in Rapallo. I’ve often wondered if booking through booking sites rather than with directly with the hotel gets you a less desirable room but I really no longer think so and this place proves it – room 412 has to be one of the best rooms in the hotel. 88€/single with sea view

Of course at 4pm no one is serving either lunch or dinner and I’d not had anything since the croissant in Nice over seven hours before. I got the worst piece of pizza I’ve ever had in Italy. Oh well. Later, for dinner at one of the seaside promenade pavement restaurants, I had an excellent Pansoti Noci (ravioli stuffed with ricotta and herbs in a walnut sauce).
I also stopped at the TI and got boat options – from Rapallo you can take a boat (hourly almost all day every day) to Santa Margherita and Portofino, but the boat to the CT/Portovenere is only a couple times a week. However taking the train to any of the CT towns (about 45 minutes, 4.7€ each way) then lets you get the boat the rest of the way (goes every couple of hours or more, daily). So between the train and these boat options Rapallo makes a great base to see the Liguria region.
As I went to sleep, with my castelo glowing golden just under my terrace, “le onde andavano sussurrando” – the waves were whispering.
isabel is offline  
Sep 9th, 2013, 04:34 AM
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Italy Day 2 (but trip day 20 – Portovenere, Vernazza, Monterossa: This day was ALL heaven. Sunny and warm (cool and breezy in the shade, hot in the sun). After a wonderful hotel breakfast I got the train to Vernazza where I had determined (correctly) that I could get a boat to Portovenere. MUCH better than taking the train to La Spezia and then finding a bus. I found the boat ticket seller at a little table by the harbor and got the 25€ all-day pass – stops at all the Cinque Terre towns and Portovenere and includes a 45 minute boat ride around the three islands near Portovenere.

I had almost an hour till the next boat so I explored Vernazza – looked pretty much the same as I remembered it from 11 years ago. At 9 am it was un-crowded and pleasant. I started up the trail to Monterossa, just intending on taking a few shots of the castle side of town which was bathed in early morning sunshine, but the trail head is pretty close and I didn’t want to buy a ticket since I had the boat to catch. The boat ride was heavenly, stops at all the CT towns (well except for Corniglia) and takes about 45 minutes to get to Portovenere. For photographers, the light is much better in the afternoon. Between Monterossa and Portovenere the coast is steep cliffs running right down to the water. That four towns (the other CT towns) could be built on this terrain is amazing, and of course what makes it: a) a UNESCO world heritage site and, b) crowded as hell since it IS fascinating to see and so hoards of people come to do just that.

PORTOVENERE is delightful, charming, lovely, adorable – pick an adjective. And just gorgeous in the late morning light – The land rises quickly from the water and the town consists of two rows of houses – colorful, 7 stories tall and thin (called terratetto) they date from as far back as the 11th C and are connected in a wall-like formation (to protect against attacks from Pisans and local pirates). There is a sea side promenade, one or two streets running parallel to it (a few stories up) with shops – the main street entered by an impressive town gate, the Gothic Church of San Pietro (built in 1198) sitting at the end of the promontory on a mass of rock above the Grotto Arpaia where Lord Byron used to swim with Shelly, and the Andrea Doria Castle high up behind the town. Couldn’t design a more picturesque or interesting little town. Larger, and with far more to see and do than any of the CT towns, it still doesn’t take long to see. I’d climbed all the possible steps to churches, castle, tiny streets and taken several hundred photos, had lunch (focaccia with tomatoes, olives, eggplant, and basil – basil is King in these parts) and a gelato (lemon – lemon is Queen) and took the 45 minute boat ride around the islands (which together with the town of Portovenere are a UNESCO world heritage site) all in about 4 hours. While Portovenere is a wonderful place to visit, and I could see staying there if you just wanted to chill for a while, it isn’t as good a base as Rapallo if you are interested in seeing more than it (and possibly the CT, during summer when the boats run).

CINQUE TERRE – While certainly popular (thank you Rick Steves, Fodors, Frommers, etc.) I wouldn’t call it totally over-run. I’d been here 11 years ago and it looks pretty much the same – certainly not built up or anything. Vernazza and Monterossa train stations were kind of crazy in the late afternoon (the ticket machines all didn’t work, trains were full) but unless you are looking for total solitude it was fine. Gotta say, the way to see these towns, at least from a visual perspective, is by boat. That’s how they are the most picturesque. Vernazza is the most interesting with the castle topping it on one side of it’s cute little harbor, and the church on the other side. Monterossa is mostly beach town – a good ten to fifteen minutes worth of beach between the train station and the entrance to the ‘old town’ – which is just your ‘average’ cute little Italian town with a bunch of tourist shops and restaurants. I think its best feature is that in the late afternoon sunshine you can look down the coast and see all the other towns.

I got off the boat back in Vernazza because I wanted to photograph it in the afternoon light. Much more lively at 5pm than 9am but still wouldn’t call it ‘overrun’. I climbed (255 steps) to the top of the castle (my second castle climb of the day) – gorgeous views of the town and down the coast. At the train station none of the ticket machines worked, and I couldn’t find the ticket window immediately and a train for Monterossa was in the station so I just hopped on and stood in the back (with several others, the train appeared full) for the 3 minute trip to Monterossa where I got off to buy a ticket to Rapallo. I decided since I was there I’d take a quick look around, but as I said above, it’s really the least interesting of the CT towns (unless you want to beach it). I had planned another whole day later in the week to more fully explore the CT towns.

Back in Rapallo had dinner at another restaurant along the promenade – a ‘ravioli with fish’ – the fish being mussels, clams (in the shells) and those interesting Italian things that area a cross between shrimp and lobster. Then a sunset walk to the far end of the promenade (it goes quite a way, to where the sailboats and yachts are parked).
isabel is offline  
Sep 9th, 2013, 04:40 AM
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Some thoughts on Italian Trains: Regional trains you just buy a ticket; some have a time and date, some are just generic, but none have seat assignments. If no date and time on the ticket then you have to stamp it in the machine before boarding. IC (inter city) trains do have seat numbers, but if the train is full they will sell you a ticket anyway, without a seat number and you can: a) stand, b) sit in a seat till someone with that seat tells you to move (and that doesn’t always happen), or c) if it’s the kind of train with compartments, then in the hallway there are ‘jump seats’ you can sit on.

The smaller stations are in varying degrees of decrepitude. You can consider this charming. Medium size stations tend to be pretty dirty looking, but have more services – like escalators and WCs. Big stations, like Milano and Roma are clean and modern and have shops, left luggage, etc. All stations have big posters (behind glass) listing all the departures (partenza) from that station each day along with the bin (binario/platform) # that it will (probably) leave from. Most stations, even small ones also have electronic displays listing the upcoming several trains and the bin #. I’d say about 90% of the time the train actually leaves from the bin it is supposed to, but when they change it, it’s at the very last minute- they make an announcement (usually, but not always, also in English) and everyone runs to the other platform. So if you hear an announcement, even if you don’t understand it, but everyone waiting for the train moves, you should too. Italian trains have gotten better in recent years but many are still 10-15 minutes late, especially in the afternoon (unless you are running late, in which case they will be right on time).

All stations have ‘biglietto’ machines (‘fast ticket’) but many only take credit cards and they only work with Chip and Pin cards. My AFCU card worked in all of them. In small, heavily used stations (e.g. Cinque Terre towns) all the machines are often broken. There are manned ticket booths but the lines can be long. Using the fast ticket machines is best, especially if you have a chip and pin card or are in a station where there are some machines that take cash (in which case have plenty of Euro coins).
isabel is offline  
Sep 9th, 2013, 08:59 AM
Join Date: Apr 2012
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Isabel, I agree with bobthenavigator, this is one of the best trip reports I've ever read. I have a lot of the same likes and dislikes that you do when traveling, and I love your writing style and tone. I am looking forward to the rest of your report. Thanks again!
Blaise22 is offline  
Sep 9th, 2013, 02:52 PM
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Thanks. I'm glad people are finding it useful. The more trips I plan the more I realize how I depend on other's trip reports so I hope this one will come in handy, if not now, eventually, for people going to these places.

Italy Day 3 (but trip day 21) –Santa Margherita, Camogli - Woke to clouds and drizzle, then some thunderstorms so spent the morning doing travel catch up work (on a five week trip you need a down day every once in a while for organizing your stuff, laundry, writing up notes, downloading photos) – so the weather imposed that on me this day.

Still cloudy but only spitting rain, I left the hotel around noon and took the train to SANTA MARGHERITA, whose train station (a 4 minute ride from Rapallo) is up on the hill above town, both steps and a street lead down to the beginning of the marina. The train station end is mostly beach cabanas (empty even though it was a weekend, I assume because it was still cloudy). The marina is rectangular, and a promenade and colorful houses line three sides, although a busy street runs between the promenade and the buildings. The harbor is positively crammed with boats, mostly medium sized yachts, a few rusty but colorful fishing boats, some skiffs, and a few sailboats. Mostly yachts. Docks extend out into the water with boats tied up to both sides so that the effect is like a parking lot for boats. You can barely see the water. Actually not really very pretty. Santa Margherita harbor looks better from a distance, coming in by boat than when you are waking around it. No shortage of pavement restaurants – the restaurants themselves across the street from the tables.

The old town is set back behind all this. There’s a tiny castle, but it’s across the street from the water and nowhere even close to as cute as Rapallo’s. There are a few arcaded buildings, a couple churches, a few streets of stores, and not all upscale as I thought they would be. So SML is both literally and figuratively at a cross between Portofino and Rapello – in size, cuteness, and price.

Still cloudy so I had a long lunch (pizza – how they figure a pizza that size is for one person I don’t know, I saw lots of other diners sending back plates with almost half the food left). By then (4pm) it was sunny so I walked around taking photos but SM faces so that pictures are better in the am. So I took the train to Camogli. It’s only a five minute trip but the next train wasn’t for 30 minutes, and then it was 15 minutes late, and then they changed tracks at the last minute.

CAMOGLI – We stayed here on our first trip to the CT, 11 years ago. The town is larger and better looking than I remembered. The train station is up on the hill but 110 steps down and you are on the seaside promenade, which runs just above the very large beach. Colorful tall houses line the whole waterfront, with the church and castle right next to one another at one end. And past that, not visible from the main beach part of town, accessible through a small arcaded passageway, is the tiny boat harbor – not a yacht or even sailboat in sight, all tiny open boats. Tightly enclosed by a rock jetty extending out from the castle to the lighthouse and lined with the colorful tall houses, mostly painted with tromp d’ole decorations. Is ‘utterly charming’ to cliché? There are a couple of shops selling jewelry and paintings and tourist junk, but no real stores. Not sure if there even is much of a ‘real town’, I didn’t see one, and don’t remember one from when we stayed there before, just apartment houses and a few hotels, the restaurants along the water. Took tons of photos and had the best lemon granite.

Back in Rapallo at 7pm it was really lively, all the stores open and a produce and flower market in several of the small squares and along some of the main streets of the town. Got some fruit, some great cookies at a bakery and that was dinner – between the massive breakfast and an entire pizza for lunch at 4 pm that was all I was hungry for. And I had that beautiful terrace overlooking my castle to sit on.
isabel is offline  
Sep 10th, 2013, 06:55 AM
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Italy Day 4 (but trip day 22) – Woke to blue skies again, that’s more like it. Too early for the first boat to SML (9am) I took a walk in the shopping streets and was amazed at how much was open at that hour, on a Sunday, in Italy! The produce market was back open and so were a lot of stores, especially food stores. Got the day pass for the boat for 17€ – stops at SML (15 minutes), Portofino (15 more minutes) and Santa Fruttuoso di Camogli (another 20 minutes), and back, you can get on and off as often as you like. Boats go hourly in both directions. At SML I just got off for the one hour since I had been there the day before, but wanted to shoot it in the morning light.

PORTOFINO – too cute for its own good is how I’d heard it described and that’s pretty accurate. Just the way it sits in its little protected cove, with colorful houses coming right down to the water, a church on two hills, a castle and a lighthouse. Much smaller than SML and nowhere near as pretentious as I’d feared (although I had the world’s smallest gelato, an ice tea and a bottle of water, all to take away and it cost nearly 10€!). The walk up to the castle is not too arduous, and the view so fantastic that I would have gladly climbed twice that far for it. The castle itself has a little art exhibit but it’s the view you go for (and pay for, 5€). If you continue on past you eventually come to the lighthouse. The views from there are nowhere near as good, and the lighthouse itself is more interesting looking from the water. There’s a little ‘mini bar’ where I got the gelato (the ice tea and water I got down near the harbor). But unless you want to have meal, or shop at one of the handful of designer shops, there’s not much else to do in Portofino. Somehow I had envisioned a much larger, livelier place. And I’m actually glad I was wrong.

Santa Fruttuoso di Camogli – sitting at the far end of the peninsula, half way between Portofino an Camogli, and accessible only by boat (or a three hour hike), it’s referred to as a ‘fishing village’ but there really is no village. There is a tiny beach (which was completely, totally covered with people), a little rock promontory where the boats ‘dock’ (and I use that term loosely), two small restaurants and a shack that serves as a bar. There might have been a house or two behind the Abbey. The main thing here is the Abbey, which would only be ‘mildly’ interesting if it weren’t for the fact that it is around 900 years old, and anything still in decent shape at that age deserves to be more than ‘mildly’ interesting. There was a tiny cloister, some cellars, a chapel. Although I’m not unhappy that I went, I would say there are more interesting things to do in the area. It was really confusing where to get the boat (boats come from both Portofino and Camogli) and where the boat from Portofino dropped off is NOT where the next one leaves from and that point (just around the big rock that serves as the dock) is not visible so a large number of people (including me) missed the boat we were waiting for and had to wait another hour. Since there was no place to sit on the beach, and I had already toured the abbey, there was nothing to do but sit in the hot sun on the rock.

The boat ride back to Rapallo from Santa Fruttuoso takes about an hour and is utterly enjoyable, pulling in and out of the harbors of Portofino and SML and just cruising up the coastline.

Back in Rapallo I rested and then went out for dinner to another of the restaurants on the lungomare, and then walked through the old town streets where I was surprised that so many stores were open. I got a gelato three times as big as the one I had in Portofino for only 2.50€. Which I finished eating on my terrace watching the sky turn dark blue and the castle turn golden as the lights came on and the harbor reflected hundreds of tiny lights.
isabel is offline  
Sep 10th, 2013, 06:57 AM
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Italy Day 5 (trip day 23) – Cinque Terre - I could really get used to these breakfasts – fresh squeezed OJ, bacon and eggs, fresh pineapple and watermelon, chocolate croissant and the BEST cappuccino. Today was my official Cinque Terre day (the other day was just stops on way to/from Portovenere).

VERNAZZA – with ‘to die for’ views from both directions, a castle and an interesting church, Vernazza wins the ‘best’ single town in the CT award. And I’m not the only one who thinks so, it’s the most crowded. It’s also the only town in which I saw actual tour groups. The train station is right at the top of the main street (5 minutes max walk to the marina). I started up the trail to Monterossa (church side of town, through a tiny arcaded walkway next to the church, little tiny sign) even though I never intended to walk the whole way but found it was closed for the week for maintenance. The dude in the booth said I could go a short ways for the best views back to town (at least 250 steps, plus lots of non-step incline). In this case the best views are past the trailhead booth (where you need to have a ticket). I had already climbed the castle the other day (275 steps), so next I started up the trail on the other side of town (castle side) towards Corniglia. At least 300 steps up, but before you get to the official trailhead booth, more to die for views of the town. It was only 10 am at this point but hot and humid so I decided to skip Corniglia again as it seems the least interesting to me, not being on the water. You get pretty good views of it from both Vernazza and Manarola.

MANAROLA – Got the train from Vernazza to Manarola (exactly half of the ticket machines in all the CT towns that I tried to use were broken, but there are manned booths). Getting out of the pedestrian tunnel that leads from the train station to the town I followed the first sign I saw leading to Corniglia, figuring I’d go a short way for the views. Well after half an hour, hundreds of narrow, steep stone steps (think goat path) I realized I was not on the main path, but on the upper one that goes waaaay up high. Not only was it hot, really steep (some of the steps were at least 18” high and only 5 or 6 “ wide) and slippery, but the views were not that great. I slipped and slided my way back down and went towards the marina where I found the nice, paved, only slightly sloping path with not all that many steps which leads to the ‘to die for’ view of Manarola. You can see all the way to Corniglia train station and it looks pretty short and easy (apparently the hard part is the very end where you have to climb up to the town, but if you only wanted to walk from Manarola to the Corniglia train station it looks really easy.

I think Manarola is my favorite CT town. It’s got a bit of stuff back from the marina, a little church, a terraced piazza, then another one down closer to the water. It has the most interesting waterfront – a huge rock that some people were climbing up and then jumping from, several other rock promontories people were lying on. Not much of a beach, or place for boats (Vernazza has the only thing you could call a harbor, in both Manarola and Riomaggiore the ferry boats basically pull up to a big rock and put the gangplank on that, not for anyone with any real mobility issues that’s for sure). It also has a much more laid back, and less crowded atmosphere. I had lunch at a place just back from the water. The waitress was saying she had lived for a couple of decades in Brooklyn, but now that there were jobs back here she wanted to return. So I guess the tourism really is a double edge sword – totally changes the character of the towns, and the residents give up a lot of privacy and quiet (at least in summer) but does provide jobs and incomes.

RIOMAGGIORE – the main street of the town rises up from the train station – five minute walk to the top, lots of little shops and pavement cafes. In the other direction, through a long pedestrian tunnel (with musicians playing, just like in the NY or Paris metros) is the waterfront – can’t really call it a marina, a harbor, or a beach cause it’s none of those. Just an indentation with houses on both sides. The area where the tiny fishing boats come in is so small that most of the boats are ‘docked’ on the street. There are no ‘from up high’ views of Riomaggiore. The only path (it’s the bottom most of the towns), the one to Manarola which is a paved flat path, is closed, having to be, I guess, completely rebuilt from the floods of 2011. Riomaggiore is not as pleasant as Manarola since the town and the waterfront are separated.

I decided to stop again in Manarola on my way back north. If I were to stay in any of the five towns I think this would be it, but actually I’m very happy with my choice of Rapallo. But the light would be better now, later in the afternoon and I wanted to see it again so I stopped for another ice (ciappio). And then did the same again in Vernazza. Vernazza was definitely the most crowded, almost a theme park feel to it at this time. But then just as I was photographing some of the boats in the harbor the church bells started ringing, but it had a different sound than just marking the time. And then a slow peal and I looked up and saw the tiniest hearse leading a procession of at least a hundred mourners walking behind it. I felt sorry for them having to have their funeral procession through a bunch of tourists. Though I will say the tourists were all very well behaved, all standing off to the side, no one talking or taking photos. It is a reminder that even with the hoards of tourists, these are still real villages, with people who live, and die, here.
isabel is offline  
Sep 11th, 2013, 05:32 AM
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Trip day 24 Switzerland Day 1– Rapallo, Italy to Lausanne, Switzerland – Another three train travel day, but no where near as bad as the last one. Good thing I had a seat number for the train from Rapallo to Milano cause it was full. Someone was in my seat but she had to move. That person was fine with it, but there were lots of yelling Italians moving about the cars looking for seats. Only half an hour to Genoa (glad I didn’t need to change trains here) – perhaps on my next trip to this part of Italy I’ll explore Genoa – I think these big southern European cities are best visited when the sweat isn’t pouring into your eyes by 10 am. After the several Genoa stops the train was bursting.

The train left Rapallo on time at 8:36 but was 15 minutes late getting into Milano Centrale (11:05). I saw my next train was on Bin 3 and remembered that the Swiss trains are always stuck way over at the end of the station. So saw I had enough time to run downstairs and use the WC (1€). The Swiss train was only about a third full when it left Milano but full by the time we got to Brig (13:06). Brig station seemed easy enough to navigate – escalators and ramps, a nice big clean ticket office where I bought my exorbitantly priced but very useful Swiss Pass (393 CHF/ 317€/ $416). But it was nice to just jump on the next train (13:28 to Lausanne, arrived 15:15). Blue sky and we passed some pretty impressive mountains.

LAUSANNE (pronounced Low-zane) – once I figured out which side of the station to exit (duh – look at the signs: city or lac) the metro was right there. OK, this is the best thing about Lausanne – the adorable metro. Goes from the waterfront (Ouchy) few stops to the Gare, one more to Flon, then a couple more higher up in the city, then a few suburbs. Lausanne is not a cute hill town, but it does sprawl up a pretty steep hill so walking up is strenuous, otherwise you probably wouldn’t need a metro, the distances are not that far. It’s clean, comes every 4 minutes during the day. Place d’Europe where the hotel and metro are located is just a big boring square. There are escalators and steps up to the next level of the city but the square itself is totally boring. Actually the whole city is pretty boring, none of the charm or ambiance of Bern, Lucerne, or even Zurich. A few moderately nice buildings, and nothing really wrong with the city, just not visually interesting. The lakefront is by far the most pleasant part. There are boats (big lake steamers, plus a harbor of sailboats), fountains, gardens, swans, lots of places to walk, ice cream and crepe and hamburger places. The mountains across this narrow end of the lake are impressive when they are not covered with clouds or haze (but that seems to be most of the time).

Lausanne L Hotel, Place de l’Europe 6 www.lhotel.ch/uk/index.php The hotel is actually in an old building but everything else about it is ultra-modern. It is smack next to the Flon metro stop, so very convenient to La Gare and to Ouchy, the waterfront where the boats leave from (and which is the most pleasant part of Lausanne). And to get to the center of the city you can walk up the stairs to the elevated walkways right in front of Place d’Europe where the hotel is located, or take the glass elevator. The metro from La Gare is one stop, it’s the world’s cutest little metro (looks like a cross between a real metro car and a funicular), they come frequently (except when it breaks down and then it’s either a very long uphill walk or a very crowded bus ride- hopefully that doesn’t happen frequently, though it did when I was there). You get free metro/bus pass when you check in (I think this is the case with most hotels in Lausanne). The lobby of the hotel is also an upscale bar, but the noise didn’t reach my room on the first floor at all. The room itself is also ultra-modern; all white everything but decent size, extremely comfy bed/pillows/towels and an interesting WC/Shower arrangement that works well. At 12CHF I did not try the breakfast. Wi-Fi worked great, there was no TV, there was ‘climate-control’ but you couldn’t regulate it; most of the time I was cool enough but the room was a tad stuffy some of the time (30Cs/80Fs). My only complaint was a fairly strong smell of cigarette smoke much of the time. 100chf/single

Of course everything in Switzerland is super expensive, especially compared to the areas of France and Italy I had just come from. After checking in I went out for an exploratory walk. None of the restaurants looked at all tempting. Stopped at a grocery store and got a sandwich (freshly made and substantial; chicken salad on really hearty bread), ice tea and three chocolate bars and it was 17chf. After dinner I went down to the waterfront and explored there.
isabel is offline  
Sep 11th, 2013, 10:12 AM
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You've opened my eyes to some other potential spots to visit on the Ligurian coast. When we were in Cinque Terre we stayed in Riomaggiore, primarily because we could get parking, but it was a lovely place to stay. In your photos, you can see "our" yellow building, the second building from the coast looking over the harbor. Probably the best romantic, sunset view from a room we've ever had. (actually it was an efficiency apt.).

Later in our trip, we did a daytrip from Bellagio to Lake Lugano, just to visit Switzerland. It was a charming city, but after a month in Italy, we ended up at a very attractive McDonalds for lunch! $20 for two "Big and Tasty" meals.
uhoh_busted is offline  
Sep 11th, 2013, 04:33 PM
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Yeah, especially compared to Italy, Switzerland is incredibly expensive. I really enjoy Switzerland but I think the next time I get a craving for the Alps I'm going to try the Italian and French Alps - they are probably just as gorgeous and more affordable.
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Sep 12th, 2013, 07:49 AM
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Trip Day 25, Switzerland day 2 – Montreux, Chateau Chillon, Geneva, Nyon, Yvoire (France) – Woke to blue sky over the lake, but clouds over the mountains. Took the train to MONTREUX (20 minutes). Montreux has a nice huge lake side promenade that stretches all the way to Chateau Chillon, lined with flowers and trees, including palm trees (this is the “Swiss Riviera”). The view across the lake is of some medium impressive mountains (although pretty hazy with clouds over them). There are a few really nice turn of the century (19th) grand hotels, but mostly Montreux looked to be a lot of boring hotels, apartments and shopping.

I walked the pleasant 45 minute walk to the Chateau, under mostly cloudy skies. Got there just as it opened at 9 am so had the place to myself for the first hour which is the way to see someplace like that. Crowds would totally change the atmosphere . My Swiss Pass got me in free (12chf otherwise). It doesn’t look that big on the outside but there are many levels to explore – dungeons and cellars below ground, several floors of rooms – many with impressive fireplaces, frescoed walls, etc. There were also some interesting displays, and not just of weaponry which seems to be what European castles mostly like to display. There were displays on bathing and hygiene in medieval times. I spent an hour and a half there and the tour groups only showed up the last few minutes. Unfortunately the classic beautiful view of the castle jutting out into the lake was ruined by scaffolding.

At the ferry stop the sign looked like it said the next boat wasn’t for a few hours but one was pulling in and it was going to Montreux so I hopped on. Ten minutes later I was back in Montreux. Given that it was still cloudy over the mountains, and the train to Rochers de Nay is an extra 25 chf in addition to the Swiss pass I decided to do the lake instead. Got the next train to Geneva.

GENEVA is a pleasant enough town but also lacks any real ambiance. The setting on the lake where it goes back to being the Rhone is lovely, several bridges connecting the sides of the city. The famous giant water fountain, Jet d’Eau is impressive – especially against blue sky, which there was. The old town has some nice buildings and squares and streets, but still nothing on a scale of Bern/Lucerne/Zurich. It’s mostly a modern, 20th C city. It’s an easy, obvious walk from the train station to the lake and the old town on the other side, and the old town is pretty small. The promenades along the lake seem to go quite a ways. After walking around for a couple hours there was nothing that enticed me to stay.

Took the train to NYON. There were no signs (at least that I saw) to the ferry but it was pretty obvious which way the lake was. It’s a larger town than I had expected and actually fairly pleasant with a cute little white chateau, some vineyards right in the middle of the town. It was still sunny but as the ferry was pulling out to Yviore I could see ominous dark clouds over Nyon.

YVOIRE, France is ‘picturesque’ to be sure. A tiny castle jutting into the lake, a bit of town wall sticking up over a tiny village of stone buildings. There were really only 3 or 4 little streets, all filled with tourist shops/restaurants/ice cream and crepe shops. And everything was back to affordable prices in euros. A ham and cheese crepe could be had for 3,90€, in Lausanne it’s 9chf (which is 8€). The ‘thing’ that Yvoire does (besides cute buildings/castle) is flowers. There were window boxes and pots everywhere – mostly geraniums, hydrangeas, and petunias.]
It was still sunny but here was thunder rumbling in the distance. I got lucky and there was a boat going to Lausanne which was way better than the shorter boat ride followed by a hike up the hill in Nyon and a train ride.

But my luck ran out when I got back to Lausanne and the metro was having an ‘incident’ and after waiting half an hour everyone (and by now it was a substantial crowd) went across the street to the bus. Which did indeed take me to the ‘city’ but not any part of it I had explored the day before so it was really confusing finding my way to the hotel – and of course it was now raining and I had no umbrella. Urrr. A shower and dry clothes and I went out to look for dinner. Nada - streets empty, stores closed, no inviting restaurants. Went to McDonalds – and it was actually quite good – a chicken caprese wrap, fries and coke for 11.90chf.
isabel is offline  
Sep 12th, 2013, 10:20 PM
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You get free metro/bus pass when you check in (I think this is the case with most hotels in Lausanne)

Also the case with hotels in Basel.
Michael is online now  
Sep 13th, 2013, 05:45 AM
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Trip Day 26, Switzerland day 3 – Gruyeres – The weather forecasts in Switzerland change overnight. Now the forecast for the rest of my time is mostly clouds with some rain and possibly a little sun. Grrrrrrr

I decided GRUYERES would be the least bad on a rainy day so headed there. The first part (after Montreux) of the train is the Golden Pass Scenic train. It was actually not totally cloudy at this point and it was a pretty ride, the train climbs high out of Montreux with good views down to the lake (the regular train heading in that direction stays much lower I guess). Some decent mountains but they were pretty cloudy. In Montbovon you change to the ‘Gruyers Express” train.

Gruyeres is very cute. The approach shows walls and turrets and houses on one side, bastide style. Fifteen minute walk from teensy train station up to town, with the sound of cow bells in the distance, through a nice bit of wall/gate and then it’s one wide cobbled street with a fountain in the middle and the chateau at one end. All the shops are souvenir or restaurants and of course gruyeres cheese figures heavily in everything sold. I walked around the town including out the other side and down for a better view and then went to the Chateau. Which is also quite impressive considering how relatively small it looks on the outside. Lots of rooms, ramparts, spiral stone staircases, nice garden. Very well laid out, some rooms furnished, nice views down the hill out of the windows (which would probably be even better if the mountains in the distance were not covered in clouds). I liked it about the same as Chillon (which is larger and on the lake, but this one is more interesting). And it has a really interesting display of paintings scattered throughout the entire chateau, a kind of lord of the rings / fantasy theme, some featuring this castle. It actually was really impressive.

Had lunch at the Hotel d’Ville Restaurant in town – Beignets au fromage with salad – little croquet like triangles with lots of gruyere in them and then deep fired. Pretty good, especially the salad which was mostly iceberg lettuce – I was starting to crave fruits and veggies. In the grocery stores I noticed things like tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, apples, etc are two to three times the price they were in Italy and don’t look anywhere near as good. The lunch was 16chf but of course the drink was 5. But still, it was a pleasant place with outside tables but under cover from the drizzle with good people watching. By this time it was starting to rain and thunder so I headed back to the station.

I have to say that except for that metro ‘incident’ yesterday, I do love Swiss trains and having the swiss pass. I just hopped on whatever train was next going where I wanted to go, didn’t have to buy tickets, or wait for specific trains. Between the map they gave me when I got the pass and the departure board at each station it was easy figure out where to go (eg there are two possible routes from Lausanne to Gruyeres).

Trip Day 27, Switzerland day 4 – SION – Finally sunny! To the train station and got a sandwich for later at the Coop and a crossant/café to eat on the train. Some decent mountains on the way to Sion, nothing spectacular. You get a fleeting glimpse of the two hills in the middle of the fairly flat town of Sion (which is surrounded by more impressive mountains) as you pull into the station. A chateau/church on one, a castle ruin on the other. Sion is a medium sized city (28,000). The walk from the train station is through the benign but boring ‘modern’ part of town. The old town is really very nice. A few narrow streets and one larger main street with some very nice buildings, fountain. There was a major market going on.

I headed straight for the hills and climbed the shorter one first – with the church and few buildings giving it a little chateau look. I walked way out behind it for some fantastic views of the church itself, and the snow capped mountains in the distance. The church itself was OK. There was a little café up there as well. Back down to the flat area and up the other hill – considerably higher (over 500 steps) but what a view – of the town, the mountains, the smaller hill with the church. Just great. Not much up there but the ruined walls of what looked to be a pretty impressive castle. And I was basically alone. There was one woman reading a book out behind it, and I passed one man on the way up, and a family on the way down. But clearly not a big tourist draw (no admission fee).

Then I walked around the market – one of the best- every imaginable food including produce, all kinds of meats, bacons, etc., lots and lots of cheese, locally made ‘products’ – things like syrups, jams, etc. And many of these vendors were giving out free samples. One cart was making raclette, which is a big chunk of cheese put under a super hot burner to melt some and then it’s scrapped onto a plate with one small baby potato and a small gerkin pickle. There was even a guy with a portable pizza oven on wheels. And all sorts of crafts, clothes, antiques, flowers, etc. Probably the most interesting market of my whole trip.
isabel is offline  
Sep 14th, 2013, 04:49 AM
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Trip Day 28, Switzerland day 5 – Zermatt, Matterhorn – The forecast was for sun, even in Zermatt (I checked three websites), and it looked sunny when I got up so hurried to the station (I was getting the idea that sunny mornings turn into cloudy afternoons in Switzerland). Got the 7:20 to Visp and only had a 15 minute wait for a train – having pretty good train karma, rarely having to wait long. The trains are pretty frequent.

The train from Visp to Zermatt goes slower as it climbs higher into the mountains and the views are much better – high snow capped mountains, deep green valleys. Still sunny on arrival in ZERMATT at 10:13 so just went across the street to the Gornergratbahn cog railway station. It’s 41chf round trip with the SwissPass (82 without one) but worth it. This train really creeps along, the walking path visible much of the way and the views are incredible. The MATTERHORN around every corner – and set against blue sky! Of course the views at the top were just beyond words. With the sun out it was blindingly bright – all that snow/glaciers. The Matterhorn itself didn’t have all that much snow but you are up close to several other peaks that are all glacier. You can really see the glacier itself, how it’s receding. There was even still some snow at the GORNERGRAT summit. There’s a large building that is a hotel/restaurant/cafeteria/shops/ and observatory. By now there were ‘banner’ clouds surrounding the Matterhorn but they move around so the view keeps changing, and the tip was usually above the cloud. Got talking to a couple of Americans and they took my photo. Don’t usually do that but how often am I at the Matterhorn.

Had my lunch outside (glad I had my pretzel bread/ham and cheese and pickle sandwich and apple with me as the prices were outrageous for what did not look like terribly good food)– it was actually warm in the sun (sign said it was 13C). They have big bins of blankets to I guess sit on or wrap yourself in while you are sitting out there. But didn’t need it today.

Then I took the train one stop down to the Rotenboden stop and got off. It’s a ten minute, pretty steep walk down to the lake (which is not visible from the train). At first the Matterhorn was covered in a cloud, and the sun was behind another cloud and there was a breeze so the lake was not reflective. But then – both clouds moved and the wind died down and the lake turned to glass and OMG ! Incredible. Once I was able to tear myself away I got back on the path – at the train stop it said 35 minute walk to the next stop, but now it said 50 minutes. Apparently there are several trails.

So I just kept going and in a few minutes there was a second lake! And this trail is the less traveled one cause there were almost NO people here (not that the first lake was crowded or anything, obviously most people just take the train in both directions). The views here were just as good. Took even longer to tear myself away from this spot (these times that the signs all over Switzerland give for how long it takes to get to the next place obviously don’t take into account stopping to stare at the view).

I kept going. The views from the trains, even the expensive cog railways, and from the top – they just can’t compare to the views from the trails. At least this portion of the trail is not difficult. Granted I was going down. The few places where I went up (from each of the lakes back up to the trails) I could feel my heart pounding and I’m sure glad I wasn’t climbing up the whole way. But going down does not require great stamina or anything. I was even wearing sandals (Teva, and the good ones, not flip flops – but point being you don’t need real hiking gear to do some segments. The goat paths that serve as trails on the Cinque Terre are much worse).

At one point I couldn’t see any other people. I was all alone with the Matterhorn! OMG! OMG! An incredible experience. So quiet. So beautiful.

By the time I got to the next train station it was mostly cloudy so I took the train the rest of the way.
Zermatt is pretty boring. Not really quaint or picturesque like towns in the Bernese Oberland area such as Wengen or Grimmelwald. Most of the buildings are apartments or hotels and are five or six stories high, so even though built in the ‘Swiss Chalet’ style they really aren’t ‘chalets’. Of course the main streets are full of restaurants, tacky Swiss souvenir stuff, every sort of hiking gear shop (Timberland, North Face), Rolex watches, etc. Lots of places to get coffee and sweets. I had a chocolate éclair and an ice tea. I could see staying in Zermatt for a few days if you wanted to do a lot of hiking although I suspect there’s not that much variety and once you’ve hiked with the Matterhorn right in your face I can’t imagine other trails being much of a draw. While there are no cars allowed in Zermatt there are bikes, and lots of little electric taxis to take people and their luggage to all the various hotels. But I certainly wouldn’t stay there if I wanted a quiet mountain experience (would pick one of the OB towns). I had considered staying a few days in Zermatt on my way to Lausanne since the way I did it did involve some extra train time. But my reasoning turned out to be valid – if you lock yourself into one or two days (by having hotel reservations, obviously necessary in mid summer) and then you get cloudy days you are out of luck. I cannot imagine the experience to be even a fraction as wonderful if the Matterhorn was covered in clouds the whole time. This way I had six days to choose from and was able to wait till there was a sunny day.

On the train back to Visp (I was there 6 hours) I fell asleep (as did just about everyone else on the train). It was very cloudy at this point so the scenery wasn’t much of a draw. On the way back from Visp to Lausanne I decided to stop off in Sion (there are trains on that route every half hour). It was nice to see the town without the market (even though that was a very nice market). Back in Lausanne it was mostly sunny so I went down to Ouchy and shot a few pic. Didn’t get home till after 9pm (I had left at 06:30 in the morning).
isabel is offline  
Sep 14th, 2013, 07:30 AM
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Great photos!! Thanks for sharing.
NachtundNebel is offline  

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