Thursday, January 12, 2006

Can we go home now???

Woo. I took Night Nurse last night and it had me out for nearly 12 hours, and I still woke up for a bit of a cough in the wee hours and then flopped out again.

But good news - I returned to Yoga tonight! It was not as difficult as I'd expected it would be, considering the past month's inactivity, heavy eating, and then the cough. Surprisingly, I didn't gain weight on holiday. Mum says she even lost some. On 4 course meals and lots of sitting?


27th December - Montecatini

Christmas over, we now started on the first leg of our homebound journey.
Our drivers were kind enough to let us sleep in after last night's Sorrento musical, so departure was set for the humane hour of 9.30. Usually when we have a day's driving ahead of us, it would be at 7.30.

We drove northwards all day through green and picturesque Tuscany. We reached Terme di Montecatini, not far from Florence, in the early evening. It is a picturesque town, obviously prosperous because of the spa and more northern, Swiss-like undertones. Needless to say, it has a busy town centre and an elite shopping street with all the usual luxury brands.

Mum and I went for a walk before dinner. It was freezing cold and I could smell snow in the air, somewhere further north.

The hotel was pretty and full of antiques. They did try. The counterpane and curtains in our room were of pretty royal blue and gold damask. But the food was not as good as Hotel Mary's and certainly the staff didn't put love into anything they did.

One thing I did see in Montecatini that made me sad was to see that one of the spas, in a beautiful Art Nouveau building, is now closed. I know we were off-season, but this seemed different. It was eerie to approach such a building at night, but I dragged Mum along and peered in. *shudder* Anyway, the letter posted on the door said as best as I could make out that the spa had been closed due to its not meeting certain health and safety standards. Sheets painted with protests about licensing laws had been hung all along the fencing. That is definitely not a mere winter closure.
Walking further along, the same fate seems to have befallen the local Spa Authority building.

*Montecatini Mystery* -- I meant to look it up when I came back but forgot.
I have just done so and am just as ignorant as I was a few minutes ago.


From what I could see, Italian women either wear too much make up or none at all. I didn't see much that came in between. Some of you know how I apply mine, so I felt perfectly natural compared to them!

28th December - Bienvenue en France (thanks are due to Rox for the correction)

We made an early morning departure in the near dark. We saw a group of Chinese tourists leaving their hotel as well.

All day we drove into and out of pockets of falling snow and freezing fog.

In the early afternoon we reached the ski resort town of Courmayeur for lunch. Another town with even more of a Swiss feel about it, I could tell we were near.
It was -8C (about 17 F) here but I was happy in my mohair cardigan, wasn't I? A hot chocolate did not go far amiss here!

Unfortunately our drivers informed us that they would not be taking us through the St Bernards Pass (70 Euros) owing to traffic jams caused by an accident. We would detour through the more expensive Mont Blanc pass (100 Euros) which they said we would not regret because of the views.
Here's a point: The horrendous amount of money they spent on tolls on the French autoroute and Italian autostrada!

It is a long pass that goes under the great mountain. In Italy we entered Monte Bianco and exited in France at Mont Blanc. Not officially.
Every time we went into a pass, we derived a lot of amusement watching the coach's outdoor thermometer climb. In previous passes we reached about 17 C (~63 F) but under Mont Blanc we got all the way up to 25 C (77 F)! The air conditioning came on.

Once we emerged on the other side, we were treated to spectacular views of Mont Blanc. We also got out to take photos of the glacier. It was not spectacular or anything, but quite an experience to see the dense blue-green colour of the ice, and to consider that it is frozen water that has remained virtually unmelted for millions of summers.

Not long after that we saw Chamonix. All afternoon our eyes were full of alpine towns and Swiss-style chalets. Most of our mileage on this day was spent as the coach slowly descended from the mountain altitudes on winding roads. My ears even popped. What patience and concentration poor Dennis needed for this drive!

We arrived in Chalon-sur-Saone around 7pm at the hotel Ibis. At least you always know you'll get a certain standard with the big chains. It was really cute, and the warmest hotel I'd been in since the start of the trip, probably because it's not a draughty old palazzo with no heating at night, but a modern, well-insulated building. Mum and I even slept with the window propped open.
Dinner was held in the funky modern dining room. Lots of red and fuchsia. Even the water glasses were like I'd never seen before in a public venue: red glass with grooves cut through to the plain glass underneath. Very cool table centre-pieces with fresh flowers floating on water and dyed leaf skeletons around the rim. There was a sort of porthole so we could see into the big white kitchen. The landscaping outside on the terrace was uplit with an array of coloured uplights that faded from hue to hue. Is there a name for this? Everyone does it now.
And this was just a Hotel Ibis!

I sat beside an older lady who was very interested in my art history studies because she had been a dress designer at one time. On the end wall of the restaurant was a reproduction of a painting I should have known off the top of my head, not only because I'd studied the artist, but also because Steliano had blogged about pointillism in art and music only the week before! (Link will open in a new window.)

It drove us bonkers not knowing. We did know, however, that it was called The Bathers. So she started making a list with me answering. Manet? No. Monet? No no. Renoir? Oh no. Toulouse-Lautrec? Nope, he painted nightlife. It did bother me that she was convinced it was Renoir, but I insisted Renoir was no pointillist.
So we gave up and resolved to go and have a look in the corner after dinner.
Seurat! George Seurat. I kicked myself a few times. We proclaimed that we would never forget his name after that. (I did momentarily as I typed this, I admit.)
Note: The Bathers at Asnieres was painted before his pointillist days.


Home Run!

Well, on the 29th we drove and drove, reached Calais, and finally Dover. The previous 3 days we had merely endured the endless roads, sitting, sleeping, reading.
At Dover, all our fellow passengers got out for their connecting coaches to parts north- and west-ward. They had the hardest night ahead of them. Our coach was making stops in the London area and up to Watford, so other people who had been on other company trips got it.

I am so glad we did not travel with them! They were loud and the smell of smoke clung to their coats. It looked as though they had been to the Tyrol, as I spotted the unmistakable green hat.

At Waterloo our drivers stopped and got out to give us our baggage and kiss us goodbye and wish us well for we were "good folk" (to be said in your best Geordie accent).

*The End of my Italian Adventure*

I will never go on another coach trip. This was my first and shall be my last. I can endure 10 hours in a plane, but not this. I have never slept so much in my life. The passing road hypnotises me I think, because despite having had enough hours of sleep the night before, every couple of hours I would drift into a wicked sleep.
-- 5 days of 3 and 4 course meals and short days out
-- 5 days of 10 hour drives with 20 minute stops every 3 hours

Not again...

I do appreciate the fact that I could not have arranged so many hotels, trips, and activities myself for a comparable price or stress-free.
Next time, however, I will fly to one destination and take short day trips, then fly home again.

It is my opinion that a place cannot become endeared to you if you pass through it one day for an hour. You have to hang around a bit at cafes, discover favourite areas, people-watch, even get a little bored. Then it will settle in to a corner of your heart.

This is what happened with Paris: 5 days, a friendly boulangerie round the corner, two visits to the same places, going shopping to pack a picnic for Giverny, kissing the sailors on Bastille Day, sitting on a wall gazing at the Tour Eiffel and saying goodbye to it.

And Verona for 4 days - once every street has been explored, it's like this: afternoons at the top of the Arena sketching and humming, cooling off at a cafe for hours watching the beautiful Veronese, ordering a gelato, then a granita, then maybe a salada mista, soaking up the atmosphere everywhere, and going on a solo shopping trip.

Both of these places are now special to me. So is Rome, as I spent 5 days there in 2003.

*gasp* No more Italy stories to tell you! A bit sad, sort of the feeling I get when I've finished a long novel. I miss the setting and the characters. What do you think?

I plan to let you down slowly with a little daily treat.


Rox said...

It really does sound as though you have seen a lot in a very short time. I know what you mean though about feeling so tired from so much sitting. When we were kids my dad would drive from Switzerland to the coast where my grandmother lives which took about 8- 10 hours in which I mostly slept too. It's just tiring sitting doing nothing for so many hours. But even when I am the driver travellingg to Switzerland from London is horrendous to me. Especially since sleeping is not a safe option when behind the wheel ;o).
Nightnurse (like Vicks Medinite)does work wonders doesn't it? Both though are evil tasting I find. But at least they help you sleep peacefully.
(Btw it's Bienvenue EN France)

Helmi said...


I tremendously enjoyed reading your travelogue and your photography about your coach tour to Italy. I seiously admire your "cojones" for taking a coach tour and for not whinging about it. (I would have done so - lots)

Yesterday I wrote quite a lot why I would not consider booking one, (my internet packed up when I posted it) but today you said it yourself in your latest posting - and much better than I did)
You should take up travel writing - seriously.. :)

Olivia said...

Rox - yes, a lot in a short time, and the thing to do next is as I said: spend more time in one place.

And SHAME on me for getting the French wrong. Do you know how many years I studied francais? I won't even say!

Helmi - some people on the tour were seasoned coach travellers - I dont know how they do it!

Many of my friends would agree with you on me writing. I have sometimes looked into it but may become more serious now. My landlord wants to see samples of my latest writing because he enjoyed my thesis so much.

Jia Li said...

are you feeling better now? I hope you get my letter. It will cheer you up