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Posts tagged ‘Train Travel’

Venice: A Palette of Light

The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

The Vaporetto on the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

The Vaporetto on the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Traffic Jam on the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Traffic Jam on the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Just Cruizin' the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Just Cruizin’ the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

For Stage 2 of the AIT Tour, (Austria, Italy, Turkey) there couldn’t be an easier way, for us, to get to Venice, Italy from Vienna, Austria. Thanks to the Austrian Rail System, a train takes you from Vienna’s Meidling Station to the Villach, Austria train station, where a very cushy, comfortable bus awaits to take you to Venice. There was even a concierge car on the train to help you arrange hotels, cars, sights, whatever the case may be!  Arriving in Mestra I was concerned with the industrial look of the area around the Mestra Train Station, where we were supposed to get off the bus. However, the bus driver told us to stay on and he took us all the way to the docks; to the vaporetto that would take us on to Venice. So on the first day we had traveled by train, bus, and boat! We got off the vaporetto and walked to the right entering St Mark’s Square to the left.

One of Many Vaporetto Stops on the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

One of Many Vaporetto Stops on the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

It was early evening and the square was filling with guests, listening to the fine music coming from the restaurants in St Mark’s piazza.

Music in the Night, Venice, Italy

Music in the Night, Venice, Italy

St Mark's Square, Venice, Italy

St Mark’s Square, Venice, Italy

We walked on to our hotel to the tune of the clickety-clack coming from our suitcases on cobble stones. Now, I have to tell you I was shocked to discover that there was water in between the buildings with lots of stairs, small bridges, narrow sidewalks and more stairs over strips of water that slapped against the buildings. For some reason I had it in my head that the water would just be on the Grand Canal. Oh no, there is water everywhere here. The large buildings do not sit on land; they sit on water and a lot of the first floors of the buildings are under water. Will they sink eventually? Just how long can the support beams from the water’s floor hold up the buildings? Just a thought, but I couldn’t get over it!

The Small Waterways Between the Buildings, Venice, Italy

The Small Waterways Between the Buildings, Venice, Italy

The Waterways of Venice, Italy

The Waterways of Venice, Italy

The Waterways of Venice, Italy

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice, Italy

The Waterways of Venice, Italy

The Waterways of Venice, Italy

Small Waterways, Venice, Italy

Small Waterways, Venice, Italy

Small Waterways, Venice, Italy

Small Waterways, Venice, Italy

Small Waterways, Venice, Italy

Small Waterways, Venice, Italy

Small Waterways, Venice, Italy

Small Waterways, Venice, Italy

We came to a wrought iron gate and pushed it open entering a small courtyard and there in the corner was our boutique hotel, the Locanda Orseolo. The small lobby was elegant and inviting. There was the breakfast room to the right, which overlooked the water. We could watch the gondolas float by! After talking to our hosts, who made us so welcome, we were off to our room on the 4th floor. That would be 8 flights of stairs! Stairs, landing, turn, stairs,  Floor 1. Stairs, landing, turn, stairs, Floor 2. You get the picture.  No elevators in these old buildings! And I was limping before I even got here! Barbara, one of the hostesses, took one look at me and offered to change our room the next day to the first floor! I was so thankful!

LuiGIGI and Barbara, our Hosts at Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

LuiGIGI and Barbara, our Hosts at Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

The Courtyard to Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

The Courtyard to Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

Room 1, Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

Room 1, Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

Room 2, Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

So we have fantastic pictures of lively murals on the walls of two rooms here at Locanda Orseolo! All the staff were very friendly; suggesting restaurants, concerts, shopping and sights to explore. Nothing was too much for them.  The breakfast room was ideal, we could enjoy the other guests and watch the world go by outside the open window! The breakfast crepes and omelets were made to order and the buffet offered a large spread of meats, breads, cheeses, desserts and juices. Coffee was made to order.  It’s another day in this beautiful city! Enjoy!

Raspberry/Banana Crepe at Locanda Orseolo, Venice, italy

Raspberry/Banana Crepe at Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

The Breakfast Window, at Locanda Orseolo, Venice, italy

The Breakfast Window, at Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy

Mürren and the Alphorns

Mürren

Mürren

We are at the train station, Interlaken Ost, (East) early this morning to go to Lauterbrunnen. From Lauterbrunnen we take the funicular to Mürren.  Mürren, population 450, is a pleasant alpine resort filled with bakeries, cafés, chalets and no public road access. There are over 2000 beds available here in chalet looking hotels. Perched on a ledge overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley and surrounded by mountains (the Eiger, Mönch and the Jungfrau) Mürren is definitely “Heidi” like. Mürren is the highest continually inhabited village in the Canton of Bern. It is recognized by the design of the chalets and the pronunciation of the Mürren dialect.  In 1911 the first British winter tourists arrived. In the village there is no full time doctor, no police officer, and no resident priest or pastor, but keep your eye open for the “Milch Express,” a tiny cart that delivers fresh milk and eggs to the hotels and homes throughout the village. Getting off the train the hikers go in one direction, to the Gondola Station taking skiers and hikers up to the Schilthorn and down to Stechelberg via Gimmelwald, and the Japanese tourists with cameras bigger than they are, head off into another direction, to set up their tripods.  We follow the sound of music, literally. On a flat terrace of earth is a group of musicians providing a concert playing long, long, long horns called Alphorns. How much breath does it take just to blow one of those things? Alphorns, alpenhorns or alpine horns are used by the mountain dwellers for communication or signal instruments, substituting them for the lack of church bells. They are carved from solid softwood either spruce or pine. In former times the alphorn maker would use a bent tree to create the curved shape of the base, but modern woodmakers piece the wood together at the base.  The cup shaped mouthpiece is carved from a solid block of wood and added last to the instrument. The sound is similar to blowing through a long tube, but they do have music designed for the alphorn. After a café we walk to the paved utility road (wide enough for a small tractor with hay) and begin our descent to Gimmelwald.  Be sure to watch the video!  Scenery is fantastic!

The Hills are Alive, but the Town is Touristville

Biking in Interlaken

Biking in Interlaken

We are saying goodbye to Lake Como today as we travel by car to Lugano, Switzerland to catch a train to Interlaken, Switzerland.  The best part of the train ride is the home stretch on the tiny train into our destination.  The train advertised a scenic zoo along the way and indeed it was.  When we got to the slow mountain climbs through the forest, looking to the left and right at specific intervals, we would see a sculpture of some kind of creature. Bears, wolves, birds, anything indigenous to the area was revealed along the way. It was fun to keep our eyes peeled for the artwork placed along the rail route.  A great deal of work was put into the “ZOO.”

Arriving in Interlaken there are two train stations, east and west.  Getting off at the East Station you find yourself in the mist of luxury, turn of the century hotels. Walking along the Banhof Strasse there is a “high meadow” or park and here are beautiful flower gardens and the landing area for the tandem parasails. The end of the “high meadow” turns into crowded, very touristy shopping areas.  I was so shocked. I thought Interlaken would be a “Heidi” kind of place. It is over-run with tourists and it seems even the tourists own the restaurants and shops. Clearly Interlaken has been sold to the highest bidder and the Swiss have moved on. I am glad we have made this a springboard stop to other alpine areas. Reaching our destination, the Lotschberg Hotel & B&B, we find it is not run by a Swiss family, but has been turned over to caretakers.  Small and clean, the hotel was conveniently located in the old town area, but the only time we saw anyone here was when we would ring the bell at the check in area and eventually someone would come from one of the upper floors to see what we wanted.  The other disappointment was the lower level of the hotel had been turned into a kabab restaurant! So we were up and early everyday to go up the mountain! Maybe that was a blessing after all. We added more alpine villages to our itinerary, only returning to Interlaken at the end of a long day. It turned out perfectly.

Safety and the Babushka Ladies and Gents, Elderly Grandparent Types

The Paris TrainThe most important safety and security rule to know when starting out on your vacation abroad is KNOW WHERE YOUR PASSPORT IS AT ALL TIMES.  Once I have landed at my destination,   found my luggage and gone through customs, I head for the bathroom, my adjustment area.  I wear a silk passport protector around my neck so my passport can be worn on my chest. My protector also holds my cash and my credit cards.  In my wallet in my purse I carry only what I think I will need for the day. So I put my passport, money and credit cards in my safety  passport protector  and away I go somewhat secure in the knowledge that my stuff is safe around my neck, on my chest, and under my bra.   Here is my scoop on bathrooms. I have never forgotten this. I once read about Debra Dean, author of the Madonnas of Leningrad, going to a restroom in the Copenhagen Airport.  The walls of the stalls went all the way to the ground, even the door to the stall.  When she tried to leave she pulled on the door of the stall and it would not budge.  The lock, like one on a school locker, would just spin without catching.  Eventually, a woman came into the bathroom and Debra frantically tried to explain her predicament in English, and realized the women on the other side did not speak English. The woman left.   Debra, now in panic mode, tried the trick that works in all the movies.  Run a credit card up and down the space between the door and the jamb.  It didn’t work. The woman  returned with another women who spoke a little English and Debra tried to describe her husband so they could find him.  Her husband was eventually found followed by the airport security.  There was an exchange of words about breaking the door down, then the sound of metal on metal and the door of the stall swung open. So….the moral of the story is Always Look Before You Lock.  If the walls go  all the way to the floor I gently prop my foot up and hold the door closed, not locking it while using the toilet.  No easy task, but hey I am not locked in the stall!  I try to wipe down the door with a Handywipe before I leave it too. This episode reminds me why I like the Babushka Ladies, the word I use to describe  the helpful grandmotherly type women. Sometimes you can find them  seated out in front of the bathrooms in big traffic areas of markets, museums, etc. in European cities.  They look like someone you would not mess with, a meaty sort of woman with big arms, no smile. She sits behind a table with small toiletry items on it.  You pay her to get into the bathroom.  Men and women must pass her and pay her.  She knows who goes in and out. I love this woman!  I know if I don’t come out she is going to come looking for me.  I know no one will be fooling around in her bathroom. I know I can adjust my passport protector. I know she can break down that door if she needs to!!!!!  I look for the Babushka Lady bathroom! I’m sharing my private trade secrets here!

I have found that same security in other areas.  Babushka ladies can be found at train terminals.  For some reason I have problems with tickets and how to use them properly in the machines. Safety and Security Help #2:  Watch the person in front of you to see how  to operate any kind of machine,  any machine that requires a stamp or placing a ticket into a slot.  In Paris I once put my ticket in the train turn style in the wrong slot. How could there be two slots and I pick the wrong one?  Well, anyway it ate my ticket. So my hubby trudged back to the line to buy another one. The line was long so I pushed the luggage to the side of the turn style to wait.  While I waited more people approached the turn style and had the same problem that I had experienced. Except, one little detail, they just picked up their luggage, and pitched it over the turn style with their body following suit. What?  Not long after, teens came along, no ticket at all and just jumped the turn style altogether.  I just stood there.  That’s when the Babushka Lady Police showed up. They asked me questions in french.  I did a lot of arm waving and pointing and mime trying to explain about my ticket. They shrugged their shoulders and looked the machines over until my husband came with a new ticket.  But, I thought all along someone was watching me on a camera and sent the Babushka ladies to see what was going on.

Safety and Security Help #3.  Be on the lookout for Babushkas

Last year I stood perplexed at the train station turn style at Victoria Station in London. I fiddled for the right  ticket, why are there always so many?  Before I could say Jack Robinson there was a Babushka lady there who opened the turn style and told me to just go on through. There must be lots of cameras and ladies for me. I take comfort in that.

While at the Prague train station I encountered the Babushka Man. I placed my luggage at my side on the floor while looking  up  at the screen to see what platform I should be going to. The next thing I knew a man had picked up my luggage and was walking off with it.  I was so surprised.  I rushed after him, tried to speak to him, tried to take my luggage back. He kept walking and talking, with me huffing and puffing behind him,  going through a tunnel, up the stairs and to a platform.  As he put the suitcase down, I took a good look at him for the first time and noticed he DID have some sort of uniform on.  Well it was a blue shirt and slacks that matched. I got the message to stay put. He left, but I didn’t think that I was on the right platform and how did he know?  The train did pull in that I was to take, but not my carriage.  There are numbers on the carriage that match your ticket and seat number.  The Babushka Man came back to the platform to make sure I was still there. I watched him out the corner of my eye as he helped other people with their luggage.  He watched me while the carriage I needed was brought round and hooked to the train.  He motioned for me to get on. I obeyed and  was so surprised when I boarded.   There were little red  velvety booths with sliding wooden doors instead of individual seats.  Inside the booth a wooden table separated the cushioned seats. I felt like I was in Agatha Christie’s book, the Orient Express!   I’ve never been on such a beautiful train.  The Babushka man waved goodbye and I was off.   I was the only person on that carriage. I felt bad that I was so stupid!  While on the train a concierge came by and took my order for food and brought it to me.  He brought me maps of Budapest where I was headed to. When I arrived in Budapest the door of the train opened and there stood a new Babushka Man to take my luggage. I let him.  He talked  and talked all the way to the cab area while I just nodded and smiled. I had no clue what he said. I tipped him big and wished he could share it with the Prague Babushka Man, who I knew thought I was a jerk.

I have encountered the Babushka Lady in Italy too.  The Italian ladies tend to be skinny, older, wearing a black or flowered dress with hose to their knees and black comfortable looking shoe string shoes.  It was raining, pouring actually.  I was in the Piazza of the Vatican when it started  to rain buckets.  I noticed an unorganized  queue forming in the street and thought it might be the line for a taxi. A taxi stopped.  Five Brits jumped from the curb and stumbled over each other to get in that cab. An Italian Babushka lady materialized out of nowhere. She pulled the back door of the cab open and in no uncertain terms told the Brits what she thought of them.  Evidently she had been standing there a long time.  She was soaked through and through.  When they didn’t get out she opened the taxi driver’s door and let him have it too. By now the Brits understood that she was having that cab now! No ifs, ands or buts! The Brits got out and she got in. I went to look for the metro.

In times of need, the Italian Babushka Lady is there for you. I have stopped them to ask questions. I have been lost. I like to greet them on the street. I talk to them on the bus. I know they are thinking my Italian sucks, but they always try to help me.  In Milan, again at the train station,  I waited by the yellow machine that needs to stamp your ticket before boarding the train. It didn’t stamp properly.  Sure enough here came the Babuskas‘ to look at it.   At least I had already made it through the turn style right?  The ladies moved on and as I stood there a young woman rushed up and asked me in Italian if this was the right train to some city that I thought I had recognized on the boarding screen. I answered her, in my best Italian, trying to reassure her that it  was indeed the correct train and she had enough time to make it. She looked shocked that I was not Italian.  She scurried on, but I was so happy to realize I was now the new Babushka lady!

PS  I have not had the nerve to try to get a picture of the Babushka, maybe this trip!

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