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Posts tagged ‘Trains’

Adventures in the Village; from Vienna to Melk

The Lane off Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

The Lane off Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

If adventures do not befall a young lady in her village she must seek them abroad.

Jane Austen 

Or simply in another spot, I say! I enjoyed walking to the metro/train station on Mariahilfer Strasse, in Vienna, because I always discovered something new along the way. One day it was LUSH, a shop of freshly made cosmetics. Soaps, lotions, face creams, and more, oh my! The fragrance from that shop permeated out to the sidewalk and literally pulled me in. Once inside, lovely women tried to explain to me in German/English what all the goodies were and what they could do. I bought round shampoo cakes, for different hair types (all in the loveliest of colors and fragrances) and tins to store them in.

Lush Shampoo

One of Several Lush Shampoos

I would have bought more of their products, but because they are freshly made, some had to be kept refrigerated. The cake shampoos were one of the best purchases I made on my vacation. Every time I opened my suitcase I would get that clean, fresh, fragrance wafting up from the shampoo paper sacks. Take a deep breath, can you smell them? When I returned home I  placed the shampoos in the tins, for gifts, and the sacks went into my dresser drawers! Then I looked LUSH up online to see if I could buy the products in the U.S. Yep, there they were! Maybe I should always travel with one!

Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austri

Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

Continuing on our walk to the train station I came to a small portico opening in the storefronts  that looked like it was wide enough for a horse and carriage in days gone by. My curiosity got the best of me and I had to turn in and see where this little lane took me.

The Lane on Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

The Lane off Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

The Lane on Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

The Lane off Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

The Lane off Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

The Lane off Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

The Lane off Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

The Lane off Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna, Austria

The lane went on and on. Here was a collection of small shops and restaurants that looked like they had been  inter-connected houses in a different generation. I wondered if this was the way the streets looked before the addition of the modern high-rise buildings. The lane was so charming! I am glad I took the time to turn in. These un-expected finds always interest me the most!

The Shops at the Train Station, Vienna, Austria

The Shops at the Train Station, Vienna, Austria

The Shops at the Train Station, Vienna, Austria

The Shops at the Train Station, Vienna, Austria

The Shops at the Train Station, Vienna, Austria

The Shops at the Train Station, Vienna, Austria

Planning a day trip to Melk was fun too. Taking the elevator on the street to the multi-layered train station (there were local trains and metro trains all converging into one area) we found the trains conveniently stopped in a large, beautiful, shopping mall and market, they called the train station.  You could just skip the train and spend a lovely day eating and shopping here!  The Austrian Railway Office sold a convenient Combi-ticket, which included the train trip from Vienna to Melk, entry to the Melk Abbey, a boat cruise to Krems and the return train trip to Vienna for 47 euros. What a deal! So early one morning off we went to Melk!

The train adventure for me is the scenery and the allotments stretched along the railroad track.  Miniature houses (I call them doll houses) are tucked into gardens as far as the eye can see; doll houses with tiny windows showing off small boxes filled with abundant, draping,  riotous colored flowers.  Leaning near the door frames were clutters of ladders and old rakes. There were neatly ordered flower beds and well tended fruit and vegetable gardens behind picture perfect picket fences. Sometimes there were happy-looking, waving folks, enjoying the sunshine, while plumped in white plastic chairs and cooling their feet in a small child’s wading pool. Others were grilling, while some were bent over their plots in peaceful, nature retreats.  These areas, outside the cities, in Austria and Germany, especially along railways, are the spots for garden obsessed people to rent out a small plot and plunge into the soil. They are called Schrebergartens. There are strict rules that regulate the exact dimensions, color, and style of the doll house and how the gardens are to be maintained.  The gardens were very neat, and  tidy,  just like Austria! 

In the early 19th century, it was the idea of Dr. Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber, to create athletic fields for children to escape the crowded, larger cities. Before he realized his dream, he died, and his son decided to use the plots for gardening and to teach children the basics of gardening. The idea quickly caught on. In WWI and WWII the gardens rapidly rose in importance as sources of hard-to-get fresh fruit and vegetables. After WWII a lack of housing across the country resulted in the common practice of erecting small structures on the plots so families could have shelter. The result is what we see today; miniature housing developments of nature retreats! Families can enjoy the sunshine, relax, party, and tend their gardens. A village of adventure, to be sure! And now on to Melk! Enjoy!

PS, since the train zipped along the rail over 100 mph I couldn’t take  decent pictures! So please……..

Check out Allotment images HERE!

The Wow in Wengen

Wengen

Wengen

This is my final posting of my favorite small villages in Switzerland. Interlaken, between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, is touristy with lots of diverse restaurants and hotels.  Mürren sits high on a ledge and overlooks the Lauterbrunnen Valley.  Traffic-free, it is quaint and picturesque with shops, eateries and hotels.  Gimmelwald is traffic-free,  the smallest of the villages and one of a kind. There are great walks and hikes from Gimmelwald, which makes it very popular with the hiking crowd. But, my favorite of all the villages is Wengen.  Wengen, population 1,300, swells to 5,000 in the summer months and 10,000 in the winter. It too is traffic-free and to get there from Interlaken you take the train to Lauterbrunnen, and switch trains to go further to Wengen. Arriving on the train we see women getting off and unloading large trolleys of groceries and staples to pull up to the chalets and hotels.

The Walk into Wengen

The Walk into Wengen

There is a small grocery shop in Wengen, but for supplies it must be easier to cart them from Interlaken.  I took a tour of the Victoria-Lauberhorn Hotel and Spa.

The Victoria-Lauberhorn Hotel and Spa

The Victoria-Lauberhorn Hotel and Spa

The rooms at the Victoria-Lauberhorn are on the small side, but have a fantastic view of the mountains and the spa facilities were relaxing and calming. There is a one street shopping area, with fine specialty shops for the nicer souvenirs.

Main Shopping Area of Wengen

Main Shopping Area of Wengen

One shop features, crafted in Switzerland gifts only, and I bought a handmade coo-coo clock here and had it shipped home. There is also a very nice jewelry shop.

The Chess Pieces

The Chess Pieces

Walking through town there are large parks and huge chess sets. Benches are placed along side the sets so you watch how the match is going. There are also tennis courts and a pool in the upper park area past St Bernards English Church. The priest is available only in the summer months, since it is a rotating ministry.  He was on sabbatical from the UK, but said the church was supported by the parish and held services most of the year, but sometimes without the priest.  It was the same for the local Catholic Church as well. My highlight was the conversation I carried on with a German speaking woman, who invited me into her beautiful abundant flower garden. We got along just fine, mostly pointing and smiling.

Wengen Flowers

Wengen Flowers

The loop walk through Wengen is just long enough to stretch your legs, mingle with the locals and enjoy every minute of your stay. My choice for a vacation in Switzerland would be Wengen.  It is perfect!  Be sure to watch the video to get an idea how beautiful it truly is!

For more information on the Victoria Lauberhorn Hotel and Spa see: http://www.hotel-victoria-lauberhorn.ch

Romancing the Water and Stone

The Angel in the Train Depot

The Angel in the Train Depot

For a Valentine’s posting I was thinking of the most romantic spot I have journeyed to.  For me it would be Lake Como, Italy. The romance begins on the journey to get there. This vacation offered everything I consider romantic, a lake and the mountains. The Zurich train depot set the tone for our vacation.  It was one of the most artistically pleasing train stations I have ever been in. The compact green Italian train departed from a lively open warehouse-looking building filled with shops and restaurants and a large flower stall.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

The Shops in the Warehouse at Zurich Train Station

The Shops in the Warehouse at Zurich Train Station

The train ride through tiny mountain villages and lakes in the Alps from Zurich to Como went by very quickly because the scenery was breathtaking. We arrived in Como just in time for an afternoon glass of wine before embarking a Rapido-Hydrofoil to go from the bottom left leg of Lake Como up to the split in the lake, to one of the triangular points of the lake, Menaggio.

The Walk from Como Giovanni Train Station to the Dock in Como

The Walk from Como Giovanni Train Station to the Dock in Como

The Hydrofoil Dock in Como

The Hydrofoil Dock in Como

Como Lakeside

Como Lakeside

During our stay on Lake Como we would be exploring Bellagio and Varenna also. The hydrofoil stopped at several small villages along the lake and it was exciting to see what the other villages looked like from the waters edge.  Villas, surrounded with immaculate gardens and landscaping, were most impressive!  After each stop, to let passengers off, I would tick the villages off in my head. Well we didn’t pick that one. Next…..

When we got to the dock at Menaggio, I knew I had picked the right place. Near the shore and the landing area for the hydrofoil and the ferries, was a hip coffee/pizza/breakfast restaurant with outdoor seating.  This spot would be our favorite spot for morning cappuccino, espresso or latte while we waited for the ferry to take us on various excursions. We would just sit and watch the seagulls and the early strollers.  Nearby was a beautiful yellow villa, Hotel du Lac, and across from that the grocery store.  Perfect! (For more insight into grocery shopping in Menaggio see the post, Il Negozio di Alimentari)

Soon after arriving at the dock in Menaggio, about 4 hours behind schedule, but right on time following Italian time, we were met at the wharf by our host, Piero. Six months previous, I had asked to rent one of his rooms in his B&B, but it was full.  He had suggested an apartment, that he and his wife also rented out, since were staying over a week, and we agreed. We were not exactly sure what we would be getting. Piero had a tiny hatchback car, so we piled the luggage in as best as we could, but SB still had to scrunch up and fold himself over the luggage (and we travel light) that had to be squeezed in the back hatch seat. With Piero and I buckled in the front seats, we set off up the hill.  We went up and up, curve, up, up, curve, tight curve, back up and take a second go at the curve-turn combo. Up, Up, past San Marco, past Ligomena, another tight curve.  Stop. Here we are and the rest is history!

For a week we lived in an outstanding apartment on the mountainside of Menaggio with a heavenly pool and a dream view of Lake Como.  Our neighbors, who stayed in other apartments, came from all over the world.  We had the best time getting together in the evenings by the pool and trying to figure out what everybody was saying! It was fantastic! Enjoy the view!

PS. We traveled from Zurich, Switzerland to Como, Italy because after leaving Lake Como we would be spending a week in Interlaken, Switzerland.  You could fly into Milan and take a train from there to Como to get a hydrofoil to the other villages along Lake Como.

For information about the apartment see: Apartment le Eriche, Via per Barna, Plesio, Italy.

For the B&B see: B&B Eriche, Villa alla Grona, Menaggio, Italy or view on TripAdvisor

On To Florence!

Ok, my blog is going to start with a Pop Quiz.

I have not written to you in two weeks because:

a) I had such a good time in Italy, it has taken me two weeks to get back into the grove.

b) I know it is summer and you are all doing fun things, besides reading my blog, so I gave you a few weeks to catch up on all the doings.

c) I decided to clean out my garage to make room for a new Italian sports car.

d) All the above

So now that we have the Pop Quiz done lets move on to Florence!  I love Florence!  It still is my favorite city in Italy, but sad to say I only spent one night in this beautiful city this time because I had more on my plate.

Even the signs are romantic!

Even the Signs are Romantic!

Roof Top View of Florence

Roof Top View of Florence

Roof Top Duomo, Florence, Italy

Roof Top Duomo, Florence, Italy

First of all, we need to discuss the madness at the train stations these days. When I arrived and left Montepulciano I used the firm of Private Driver Services with Emanuele. Emanuele was prompt, curteous, and drove a spotless Mercedes station wagon. On my last day in Montepulciano he picked me up in Montepulciano, drove the 30-minute ride to Chiusi, carried by bags into the station, down the stairs, up the stairs and told me to wait at the proper train line.  What a guy!  This was nothing like the treatment I had in Rome.  In Rome a train attendant (I thought) came to me, picked up my bag and walked me to the proper train line for my departure and then said, “That will be 15 Euro.” I was a little taken back, I thought he was a kind train attendant helping me. (Like in Prague in an earlier posting) I gave him a twenty and asked for change and he looked me in the eye and said, “No,” and walked off.  Well, that taught me a lesson.

When the train arrived in Chiusi, a man, who was also boarding the train picked up my bags and hoisted them onto the train.  I had stewed over this because even though I had mailed home boxes of goodies and my books, I wasn’t sure I could heft the bags on the train in the few minutes allowed to heft. As it turned out this man, his wife and friends were also my booth mates on the train.  They were from Australia and we had the best time talking and we all hit it off immediatley.  We talked all the way to Florence and discovered we would all be heading to Cinque Terre in a few days and I hoped we would meet up there again.IMG_0164

As we approached Firenze Rifredi Train Station, it was raining Gucchi cats and dogs and there was no shelter where the train stopped so it was every man for himself in the pouring rain. I lumbered along with my two stacked bags and when I reached the station a young man hoisted my bags and took off down the stairs, up the stairs and around the bend of the train station with me struggling to keep up with him. When I got there he said, “Thirty euros.” What?????  Well, I looked him in the eye and said, “No.” He looked so surprised.  I gave him 5 euro.

I went to the Taxi Stand and to no surprise there were no taxis available. So I waited.  Then I crossed the street and waited at that taxi stand. Still no taxis.  I thought it odd there would be no taxis available, but then it was pouring so I thought everyone was wanting a taxi and there would be a wait. As I waited, I watched.  When a taxi did pull up my friend, the exorbitant bag carrier, would hail the taxi, talk to the driver and then place hand picked travelers into the taxi.  Every taxi that pulled in had the same routine.  The taxi did not stop at the taxi stand just looked for the bag carrier and took his travelers.  Hmmmm…..  Then an anxious looking visiting priest came up to me and asked if I had called for the taxi.  What?  He said I had to call for a taxi to come to this station and the bag handler had offered to do it for him for 50 euro.  What????   How much had I given him?

I was sure I would never get a taxi now.  So the priest, who had called for a taxi and I along with three more priests stood and watched as every cab that came was hailed to the “Bag Handler” as I now referred to him. I was nervous about being left alone at this station so asked the priest if I could ride with them if we ever got a cab. We stood for over an hour and watched this procession with the priest going up to each taxi and stating that he indeed had called for a taxi, but the taxi driver looked nervous and only followed the orders of the “Bag Handler.”  My phone had no signal here at all.  So I looked the Father in the eyes and said, “Father, we are going to have to be ruthless, they have a scam going on here, so follow my lead.”  When the next station wagon taxi pulled in I ran to it and flung open the door and threw in my smallest bag.  All the priests followed suit. The “Bag Handler” came to the taxi and I gave him a piece of my mind, something on the order of treating priests like this and so on.  I was furious. The taxi driver got out and opened the hatchback allowing the priests to load our bags all the while the “Bag Handler” read the taxi driver the riot act.  We had all squeezed into the taxi when another taxi pulled up.  Our taxi driver looked so relieved, but told us we had to get out and take the other taxi since he was not supposed to be taking travelers.  So one priest went to confirm this with the woman taxi driver, who was very helpful and said yes she had been called to pick us up. We then transferred all our luggage to her big Mercedes station wagon and after one last dirty look at the “Bag Handler” we were off.  I  told her we were going to different locations, and she said no problem.  We proceeded to City Center Florence chatting in Italian and English while she waved at all the other female taxi drivers and I tried to cool down.  She said Firenze Rifredi Train Station was not the main terminal so most of the taxis would be waiting at Florence Maria Novella Station, the station the priests had failed to get off at.  They will never make that mistake again!  I had no excuse my train was destined for Firenze Rifredi. As we passed Maria Novella we saw a long line of taxis there, the real taxis. We were told most taxis wanted the easy pick up fees of Maria Novella while the out-lying stations were manned by the “Bag Handler,” with him receiving a cut along with his mob of drivers.  Over three hours later I arrived at Antica Torre Di Via Tornbuoni Hotel, where my husband was frantically waiting for me, since I was late and had not answered his telephone calls.  I paid for the cab for myself and the priests and waved goodbye to them. I needed a drink! On to the Rooftop terrace of Antica Torrei Di Via Tornbuoni!

Rooftop View of Florence

Rooftop View of Florence from the Hotel

For a great car service while visiting Montepulciano I suggest: Tuscany Transfer Service (Emanuele) http://www.tuscanytransfer.it

The Knee Bone is Connected to the Thigh Bone. The Thigh Bone is Connected to a Headache

Bellagio,Italy

Bellagio, Italy

I really want to talk about luggage here. See all the steps?  What if you had to go from a) the bottom of that tiny stoned stairway to  b) the top where your lodging is? Would you want  to drag a large overgrown bear with you? Or better yet, could you carry that bear over your shoulders?  Now let’s also throw in, it’s hot outside, you are tired and you are not even sure if this is the right stairway to heaven.  Get the picture?  Less is more. You can’t take it all with you. Italy like any other place has stores.  AND carrying too much will give you a headache to  boot.

So you say you will rent a car?  Well you still have to get from the airline terminal to the rental car agency.  Sometimes in order to get there this will include stairs, tiny narrow escalators, long tunnels with more stairs at the end or a combination of all of them.  How much does that suitcase weigh?  What about the Borse, how heavy are they?  (See the previous post about the Borse family)  Some of the most beautiful villages in Italy are all uphill.  Even downhill feels uphill to me.  Be prepared to pull or carry. Light.

Varenna, Italy

Varenna, Italy

Once after landing at the Florence, Italy airport I made my way to the car rental area and found myself in line behind a group of two men and three women, who were traveling together.  Now I could sense this was going to be trouble from the get-go because the women were telling the men, in detail, what to do.   One gentleman filled out all the paperwork, as instructed by the ladies and when the agent thought they were through and handing over the papers, the women decided the other gent should be added as a driver as well. Back to the beginning. I stood in line for over an hour and the line behind me got longer and longer.
“Hellooooo, my knee was saying. Why are we standing still for such a long time?”   When it was my turn it took ten minutes and out the door I went.  Note:  Make all your car reservations at home and it will save you time and trouble.  When I got outside I found my car parked right behind The Group and watched in awe as they tried to get fifteen pieces of luggage into a mid-sized sedan.  Big luggage. They tried every which way under the sun, again at the direction of the ladies and finally decided that the two large cases would have to go in the back seat of the car and the three women would sit on top of them.  Bent over.  Noses touching the seat in front of them.  Those poor men!  I hoped they didn’t have to go very far!  How would they be when they arrived at their destination?  I did not want to know.

I like to take the train most of the time.  The trains that are “Mind the Gap” are easily accessible, just step from a platform over a small open space and you are easily on. Prince Charming is never around when you need him.  Some trains in Italy are small.  The trains in Italy may look like this:  1. Narrow entrance to get on and off .  2.  Three or more giant steps that you must be prepared to hoist your luggage to and then yourself.  For me it is luggage first than me.  3. Trains are on time (well Italian time) so you have to get a move on when the train comes to a halt. 4.  Be prepared for the entrance to be crammed with people who do not want to move to a seat.  Picture this. I was taking a train from the Zurich Airport by way of the local train. I had to take a train to get to another train. The train stopped, the door opened and all I saw were faces and piled high luggage.  I quickly assessed the situation. The train was ready to depart  so up went my case and I scrambled on behind it. Nobody moved. We were eyeball to eyeball with my suitcase squeezed between us. I couldn’t even turn around to face the door and just hoped my fanny would not get caught in it when it closed.  I looked up and read the sign. Do not lean on the door.  Luckily, I only had one stop to go before we all poured out.

Menaggio, Italy

Menaggio, Italy

Sometimes after you reach your destination in paradise there are stairs just waiting to greet you.  So you have a room booked on the first floor?  Well that will be the second floor in Europe. Most hotels do not have an elevator or if they do it is tiny,  not room enough for you AND a large suitcase.   You must be able to carry your luggage up the stairs. By the time you get there heavy luggage will make your knees weak, your legs screaming, your back aching, and give you a killer headache.  You will need a drink!  Or two, but won’t want to walk back down those stairs!

So what kind of luggage do I travel with? One on wheels, durable, but light weight.  It measures 16X23 inches and has an easy to recognize name tag

My new best friend

My new best friend

and strong pull out handle to slip on Papa Borsa because he doesn’t like to be carried.  Remember that your luggage does not like cobblestones, so it must have a durable handle that can lift it to carry and will not break easily.  My favorite accessory is the luggage scale.  Don’t leave home without it. You don’t want to get to the airport upon departure to have the smiling attendant say your ticket is now @$$%%^^^%#$$$$ because it is overweight.  You will be directed to another line to take stuff out or re-arrange it. Re-arrange it to what?  Use that scale beforehand and know how much the suitcase weighs.  Practice walking with your suitcase full. Go up and down your stairs at home carrying it.  Can you do it?  Remember the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone and the thigh bone is connected to the back bone.  All the way to your head.  Save yourself a headache.  Travel light.

Next….. what do I pack and how do I pack it?

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