Better late than never?

I never got around to posting about the last three weeks of our 2013 trip, which was focused on Italy but had side shows in London, Paris and Lucerne. My feeling at the time was that there was nothing that I could write about most of these destinations that had not been written far more expertly by thousands before me.

St James Park London
St James Park on a warm autumn day

The trip was designed as a bit of a taster of Europe for Ruth and Anna. London was a rush, added at the last minute and effectively a long weekend jaunt from France. A chance to take in a show (We will rock you – great). Taking the Eurostar was a very wise choice. Jumping on the train in central Paris and off in central London is far more pleasant than adding the to-and-from airport parts to any trip.

I spent some time studying the dynamics of walking tours mixed into tourist queues. Follow the piece of paper, or umbrella, or stick with a bit of ribbon even if it makes you look incredibly silly as you walk around in circles jostling the others lest you lose the leader.

Paris was impressive but we needed more time. Some (very) bad weather on a couple of the days tended to cramp our time even further.

Walking the old city wall in Lucerne. The clock tower was fascinating, biggest pendulum I have every seen.

Lucerne was a very pretty stop on route to Italy but that bad weather followed us and again we had to reshuffle our proposed activities. But as a way of getting to Italy by train, it was splendid. A short connection from Lucerne to Arth Goldau to pick up the Zurich to Milan train which traveled through the Alps, highly recommend it.

One regret for that part of the trip was not stopping off at one of the Lakes in Northern Italy which looked very enticing as we whizzed by in the train (under blue sky once we got through the Alps). In the throes of planning another (longer trip) I again realise that you cannot go everywhere unless you have unlimited time and money. Do the research and make a more informed decision and be happy with your choice.

Milan was another “whistle stop” for a couple of nights en-route to Venice. I am not a city person and that was all it really was, with the Duomo, of course and plenty of shopping for the ladies.

Playing with the camera in Venice - before it broke
Playing with the camera in Venice – before it broke

Venice, expensive, full of tourists and travelers but stunning nevertheless. You could always find times of the day and places where you could avoid the tidal waves of “walking tours” (which looked like torture at speed). It was my second trip to Venice and this time it was more spectacular than before.

On the first visit it was late Autumn and foggy (great for getting even more lost but bad for seeing things). This time it was early autumn with clear sky (over night rain had helped). We even got to see St Mark’s Square flooded and still managed to get lost.

The offline maps on the phone came in very handy yet again. They were also great for “pinning” those shops and restaurants you may want to return to later. Trying to find them any other way would be nearly impossible for the average person.

We then split our Italian trip into a “coastal” experience and a hilltop town experience. The coastal one was on the Cinque Terre and the hilltop one in Montepulciano. In between we had enough days in Florence and then finished off the trip in Rome.

Cinque Terre
The rails hug the coast, the walking track clings to the hills (like the grapes). With camera broken I was now using the iPhone

The Cinque Terre was far more crowded than I had expected (in September). Those horrible walking tours were again like tidal waves heaving down the village streets (a back pack and walking poles seemed obligatory even if you were not going near the hiking trails). Up on the trails, it was pretty quiet and spectacular. But please, if you do go, don’t try and walk the trails in jandals (flip flops) as the group in front of us was trying to do (very slowly). My only complaint about the trails was the lack of information on the sections that were closed.

We stayed in Monterosso (which I had been told by several people you should not do) and loved it. Had a small apartment in amongst the locals, a nice courtyard to sip some local wine and most of the visitors were gone by nightfall.

People watching in Florence
People watching in Florence

Florence, you either love it or wonder what all the fuss is about. I have been there twice now and still wonder.

Unfortunately we struck it while the World Cycle Champs were being held and the city was split by the cycle course. A pleasant enough stop but did not compare with Montepulciano (image below and at the top of the post) where we were able to enjoy life without the hordes.


It required a short and quite pleasant bus ride from the train connection, well worth the effort just to soak up something that seemed a little more genuine.

You kind of expect it when in Italy

Rome, well it is a bit like Paris, not much I can say.

Unfortunately, that bad weather caught up with us again and the street vendors were doing a great trade in umbrellas and plastic ponchos.

It was showery (the heavy thundery types) and I was amazed at how quickly they could change their inventory from the usual trinkets, bags and (while we were there, what I called splat balls) to the wet weather gear.

Along the way we stayed in BnBs and all were great.

You kind of expect this at the Vatican
You kind of expect this at the Vatican
Car parking in Rome
Parking Rome Style
Trevi Fountain
Go early or have a good throwing arm if you want to lob a coin into the Trevi fountain

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