European Adventure 30 April to 30 May 2017

Monday 29 May

Day in Korea and Airport

Sunday 28 May

In Transit

Saturday 29 May

A late evening flight meant we had a day to fill in and as we had an additional day of our train pass to use we decided to adventure into the Swiss railway system ourselves.  Carol did the research and found that we could travel to the Rhine Falls on one train from the station just down the road from the hotel.  No problems finding the train and a pleasant ride through the countryside took us to the Falls.  what a sight, with thousands of others there as well.  Photos galore from every perspective and even lunch overlooking the Rhine River and Falls.  We walked round to the other side, including a one station train ride and ended up in an old castle which overlooked the Falls.  Getting back to the hotel we decided to take another route, which entailed one change which we managed ok, again through countryside we had not seen.  An adventure which we all enjoyed and proved to be more spectacular than expected.  Thus finished our tour.  A total of about 37 trains and funiculars and cable cars, with plenty of variety.

Just to give an example of cost in Switzerland this small  bagel of Cheese lettuce and tomato with a doughnut and coffee cost $24.00 aust obviously we shared.

Friday 26 May

A pleasant stroll around the lake at St. Moritz in beautiful weather once again.  We have really blessed by wonderful weather with clear blue skies.  The highlights of the walk was seeing a few different birds on their nests as well as the surrounding snow clad mountains..  At midday we met with the group at the station ready for our four train trip to Zurich.  Each train was different but comfortable as we were travelling first class.  The scenery changed dramatically from beautiful snow clad mountains to low lying flat farmland and more light industry as we approached Zurich.  We were met by a local coach for a quick introductory tour of Zurich, which was sufficient for us to get a picture of the place.  After checking into the hotel we had to take a local train to the earlier hotel to pick up bags we had left whilst wandering Switzerland.  A final local pizza finished the tour very nicely.

Thursday 25 May

The Bernina Express, one of the famous Swiss railways and well worth the notoriety.  What a great trip.  A carriage with full picture windows which meant less reflections to ruin the photos.  We travelled from St Moritz in Switzerland over the Ospizio Bernina pass at 2253metres then down to Torina in Northern Italy.  A truly spectacular trip and everyone agreed it was the best trip of the whole tour.  We spent three hours in Torino, for lunch and a wander around, then a return trip on a regular train back to St Moritz.  The advantage of this train was that we could open the windows and avoid any reflections so the photographers were very pleased.  A great relaxing day with some great scenery which we all enjoyed.

Wednesday 24 May

How fortunate we have been with the weather since we have been in Switzerland. Another great day presented itself and of course more photographs of the Matterhorn were taken before we made our way to the station to catch the Glacier Express.. Departing at 8.45 we had an all day trip to St Moritz, arriving at 5pm.  Had a couple of stops of about 20 minutes to stretch our legs but otherwise we travelled on the slowest express train in the world through some beautiful country, presenting quite different types of scenery throughout the day.  A lazy day in many way but everyone seemed so tired at the end of the day, so it was good to get to the hotel, another unique and very nice hotel in St Moritz.


Tuesday 23 May

Another beautiful morning. A short stroll from the hotel to the special station to travel  through the mountains to  Gornergrat  at a height of 3135 metres.  What a wonderful panorama of mountains all around us with the Matterhorn standing clear of all the others. Several glaciers flowed below us and of course everyone took many photographs.   This was a real WOW experience.  Little did we know what was in store for the afternoon.  Five of our group decided to take three cable cars to visit the Little Matterhorn and we were presented with some really extraordinary WOW experience. We were right on the border of Switzerland and Italy and from the highest point at 3880 metres we had a 360 degree view of over 30 mountains over 4000 metres. Spectacular is the only word that describes the experience, but it was cold at 0 degrees.  But the sun felt warm and we only noticed the cold when inside the mountain.  Great views on the way down to Zermatt at only 1600 metres.  A great day which will never be forgotten.

Monday 22 May

Quite a varied day today.  A walk down hill to the station in Lausanne where we caught a train to Montreux, a beautiful location on a clear lake surrounded by mountains. Some free time on a beautiful morning before taking a brief cruise on the lake to a historic castle originally built in the thirteenth century by a family who controlled the travel route across the Alps from North to South. A guided tour of Chillon castle was extremely interesting and the castle itself very different to many we had seen in England and Wales.  More trains followed.  Our accommodation is at Zermatt, high in the mountains and we needed two trains to take us from Montreux.

Scenery again magnificent and many photographs were taken.  Arriving at Zermatt we were fortunate to be able to see the Matterhorn on a clear evening.  A unique hotel which we fell in love with and enjoyed an excellent dinner at the hotel.

Sunday 21 May

What a beautiful morning . We walked to the train and really enjoyed the picturesque lakeside views with almost clear skies.  Four trains today, all on a special Golden Express journey from Lucerne travelling South West through the mountains to Lausanne.  Each train was quite different and offered us some wonderful views of the pristine countryside.  On one train a few of us were fortunate to be able to sit at the rear of the train with picture windows giving us uninterrupted views of the countryside we had passed through.  We did have a three hour stop in Interlaken, situated between two large lakes.  A  funicular  railway rose above the town taking 9 minutes to the top up a 64 degree slope.  Magnificent views from the top and as we travelled down.  Three of the highest peaks in Switzerland were standing in prime position across the valley... The Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains.  Apparently it is rare to see them clearly so we were very fortunate..  After settling into our hotel in Lausanne some of us walked up to the cathedral then visited the Lakeside before having dinner and  return for a well deserved rest  -  it is tiring sitting in the train all day looking at wonderful scenery.

Saturday 20 May

An early morning start as we had a train to catch to Lucerne.  A double decker with very comfortable seats and we were in Lucerne by 10.  Pleasant stroll to the hotel with lots of information by our guide, which made it very interesting.  Lucerne is one of the most visited cities in Switzerland and can date its history back to the Roman settlements in the second century BC.   Most of our group proceeded on a one hour cruise around Lake Lucerne, the third largest in Switzerland.  Majestic mountains surround the lake and although heavy clouds were around all day we enjoyed seeing the snow clad peaks in most directions.  The city is famous for a thirteenth century wooden bridge, which is so picturesque, with many paintings hanging down the middle of the bridge.  The bridge links the old town and new town areas of the city.  A similar bridge has been built further down stream which took us back to the old town, and thence through the narrow streets with some very fashionable shops, back to the cathedral and then hotel for a well earned rest.

Friday 19 May

Rain welcomed us this morning but it cleared by about 9 and we were able take a stroll to enjoy a coffee at a local corner store.  A visit to the station to make sure of our train departure time then back to relax a little before loading the bags into a taxi for the next stage of our adventure.  We travelled first class by train to Zurich which was very pleasant and in spite of the low cloud and some rain we enjoyed the change of scenery as we moved into Switzerland.  I guess a highlight of the trip was travelling thought the  Gotthard Tunnel, 57 km long, the longest train tunnel in the world.  This took just 20 minutes with the train reaching speeds of up to 199kph.  There were five stops on the way, each quite different.  The trip was through some wonderful mountain scenery with a number of lakes making the trip even more picturesque.  One noticeable difference with the houses were the steeper roofs, to cater for the snow which is prevalent in the Swiss terracotta roofs either. Arriving in Zurich right on time we the took taxis to our hotel to join another tour - "Scenic Switzerland by Train".

Thursday 18 May

Como delighted us today with pleasant weather, though a little misty in the surrounding mountains.  A stroll down to the waterfront followed by a hop on hop off boat ride around the Southern end of Lake Como.  Each leg of the ride was only 10 - 15 minutes but presented us with different landscapes as we followed the bends in the lake.  Each village was quite different, with some having little to look at while others were more interesting.  Once back in the main town of Como we strolled along the lake frontage to the base of the funicular railway which then took us to the top of mountain behind the town.  Anticipating some wonderful views we were all very disappointed as there were only glimpses of the lake below and the mountains surrounding the area.... trees had grown up so much that they obscured the view in every direction.  An interesting experience anyway.  Back to the hotel following a different route and to see more of the business district and some of the historic areas of the town.

Wednesday 17 May 

This morning a mini bus transfer took us to the main railway station in Rome.  The traffic did not seem as heavy today so we arrived with over an hour to spare to wait for the train.  Finally it arrived from Naples and we loaded the bags into the carriage and set off North for Milan.  We reached a speed of 296 kms but usually travelling at around 245kmh but in many ways it did not seem to be so fast. The countryside was beautiful, under a clear blue sky.  Vehicles we passed on the Autostrade seemed to be crawling along, though  probably doing over 100 anyway.   Arriving in Milan a few minutes late we had 10 minutes to make our connection to a local train to Como.  We made it but all seats were gone.  Fortunately people got off at the first station so seats were available for some of the group.  At Como we arrived at a platform in the middle of train tracks so fortunately a lift was available to get us out to the street without the hassle of stairs with our bags.  Taxi to the hotel before a walk to get some lunch and find the lake...... Lake Como extends a long way into the surrounding mountains and we can see why Julius Caesar established a town here in 59 BC, although earliest traces of civilisation date back to the Bronze Age. Another beautiful day with dinner beside Lake Como followed by a sunset walk along the shoreline.

Tuesday 16 May

We started the day with a minibus ride through Rome to another hotel - could not get additional rooms where we had been staying.  Packed our bags into the luggage room and made our way for another adventure, this time on a local tram into the centre of the city.  As usual the local transport was full.  Arriving safely at Central Station we checked where we would be travelling from the next day.  Then took the subway to see the Spanish Steps and then on to the Trevi Fountain, again, this time with water flowing as it should be.....third time lucky for some of us.  After the usual photographs we moved on to the Pantheon, one of the oldest buildings in Rome.  Retracing our steps we returned to the hotel to relax before venturing out for dinner at one of the local family owned of the best meals of the trip so far.

Monday15 May

Another beautiful morning and eventually a warm day for a trip to see several of the sights of Rome .  Some of the group visited the Vatican and St Peters while the rest of us visited the Trevi Fountain, which was being cleaned must be a Monday morning job as we were there two weeks ago on a Monday.  Also looked at a few other interesting places around the Vatican.  Then we were provided with a local guide to visit the Coliseum and Roman Forum, which are next to each other in the centre of the city.  The Coliseum, built between AD 72 and 80 from the spoils of the Jewish campaign by Emperor Vespasian.  The remaining structure is very impressive and caters to thousands' of visitors daily.  A tiring day and again it was good to get back to the hotel.  The last day of our Italy campaign with the group.  We venture out by ourselves for a few days before joining another organised tour in Switzerland.

Sunday 14 May

Another glorious morning and although we started out a little later the traffic was almost non existent - Sunday morning of course.  We travelled North to Montecassino the site of a Roman town, Casinium, and now the site of an Abbey first built in 529 AD, but also site of a major battle in 1944 as the Allies moved to take Italy from the German occupying forces.  The Abbey is at the top of a very windy road, 520 metres up, which the coach driver navigated with considerable skill. Because of its location it has been partially destroyed and rebuilt 7 times over the year and is now a magnificent complex with a majestic church inside, where we were able to observe part of a service.  After lunch at a very pleasant stop on the highway we arrived at our Rome hotel early afternoon.  We all decided to have a relaxing afternoon ready for an early morning guided tour into Rome.

Saturday 13 May

What a beautiful day.  Cloudless blue sky as we took a tour of Naples which impressed

all of us, especially with the wonderful views across the bay towards Sorrento and the Island of Capri.  On to Pompeii where we had a local guide take us through the ruins explaining many of the major points of interest.  Fascinating.  Considering the whole area was covered in 8 metres of ash after the local volcano, Vesuvius, erupted in AD 69.  It is amazing that there are paintings still able to be seen on some of the buildings, with many in full colour.  Some of the mosaics are still able to be seen, but not in such good detail.  Amazing remains of a wealthy Roman city.  The amount of work to recover so much is something to be seen ... and they are still excavating.

After lunch we drove around the beautiful picturesque coastline to Sorrento which has many very nice buildings and plenty of small shops to interest the ladies. A holiday Mecca for many Italians and Europeans and becoming a favourite of Australian visitors as well.  Dinner out this evening and home to the hotel around 8, for a good rest.

Friday 12 May

A warm misty morning took us on a short coach ride to the port of Naples.  Berthed there were several cruise ships all of which had released huge numbers of visitors to this coastal city and it seemed that a lot of them were joining us for our 45 minute ferry ride to the Island of Capri. The ferry was full, with probably around 400 hundred passengers, all looking forward to a day exploring this picturesque Island.  As we docked we were welcomed by the sight of towering cliffs with white houses sheltered below them.  We took a funicular railway to the main town of Capri and after a brief wander around, with a stop for coffee of course, some of our group decided we would take the local bus to the other town on the Island, AnaCapri.  The road is narrow and winding and the driver skilled as he drove against oncoming traffic barely passing them.  Hair raising, to say the least, but we arrived safely.  We ventured into the narrow streets with plentiful shops to look at and enjoy.  Norman took a chair lift to the highest point on the Island but with the heavy mist there was not a lot to see....on a clear day it would have been wonderful.  We took the local bus back to the main port area , again a  hair raising trip which took as the base of the mountains, over 550 metres high. A smooth cruise back to the mainland and dinner at the hotel ended our day.

On the local Bus roads narrow and very difficult and fast moving for the buses.!!!!

Thursday 11 May

An early morning visit to Assisi meant that we beat the crowds, which was great.  St Francis of Assisi was born in the town late in the 12th Century and the magnificent Cathedral was built two years after he died in the early 13th Century.  The whole of the interior was adorned with original paintings depicting Christian highlights and the life of St Francis.  Our personal guide was a local who was enthusiastic and excellent.

We then drove South on the Autostrada to Naples with changing scenery from verdant green countryside to more arid land, though still very productive.  Naples traffic is something to be avoided with car horns blowing all the time as the huge numbers of cars and motorbikes vied for space on the sometimes very narrow streets.  We visited the older part of the city and enjoyed the fashionable shops on the main streets and the many souvenir stalls and shops down the narrower streets of the area.  An interesting day.

Wednesday 10 May

A beautiful day as we drove through pristine countryside.  

Today we visited two medieval cities, both situated high on hill tops with wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.  Urbino is a world heritage site and hosts the University of Urbino which was founded in 1506.  One of it's notable attractions is the birthplace of the artist Raphael.   Our second city, Gibbio, was much more picturesque and interesting to those photographers amongst us.  All cities we visit have narrow winding streets and houses and businesses which open on to the streets and many squares of various sizes.  Plus churches galore.....Italy is a very strong Catholic country and this is certainly shown by the number of churches and Cathedrals we see everywhere.  Another interesting day visiting previously unknown cities.

Tuesday 9 May

Rain most of the night which continued as we drove South along the Adriatic Coastline to Ravenna, the capital of Western Roman Empire back in the 5th Century BC.  Now a world heritage site especially with respect to early Christian and Byzantine buildings.  The rain limited our wanderings but we were able to see some of the wonderful mosaics the city is famous for.  Being near the coastline with some excellent beaches the city is a haven for tourist during the summer.  The tree lined streets made the city very inviting, in spite of the heavy traffic everywhere.

In the afternoon we travelled further South to the independent Sate of San Marino. In the coach we climbed up a steep windy road to a spot close to our hotel and then had a short walk to find an interesting hotel perched on the side of the seemed like that anyway.  Our rooms were spread out over several floors in a rabbit warren of corridors.  We explored the narrow windy streets and climbed as high as we could to obtain some wonderful views over the surrounding countryside and the various castle ramparts which seemed to be everywhere.  Initially we were surrounded by clouds with limited views but gradually the sun appeared and what spectacular scenery unveiled before our eyes.  A great afternoon, and ready for a rest before dinner at the hotel.

Monday 8 May
A day in Venice.  The city was shrouded in thick mist and not much was to be seen as we travelled by coach and then a hired boat to the Piazza San Marco.  Our guide took as on a short introductory tour into the area then most of the group took a gondola ride around some of the canals.....something not to be missed apparently.  We had the opportunity to see a short glass blowing demonstration and see a display of some wonderful Morano glassware ..... Just a little expensive.  Then free time to explore the various islands and campos and see the many churches throughout the island.  We enjoyed lunch in a restaurant beside the Rialto Bridge which was quite an experience .  Back by water taxi to return to the coach and a good rest before dinner at the hotel.

Sunday 7 May
Another drive though beautiful countryside as we travelled North to Verona, a medieval town famous for its setting of Shakespeare's  Romeo and Juliet. A 14th century residence with a tiny balcony overlooking a pleasant courtyard is said to be Juliet's house.  The city dates back to early Roman times with a 1st century theatre and Arena, one of the first Roman amphitheatres.  A local guide took us to the main tourist parts of the city and provided the background to the present day interesting fact was that the German forces retreated before the Allies and as they did so they blew up all 13 bridges crossing the river, including one built by the Romans.  Fortunately all the materials remainder and the bridges were able to be rebuilt.
After lunch we travelled East to Venice where stayed at a Holiday Inn on the mainland. The whole group, and some add ons,  decided to take local transport into the city  to explore the Island of Venice.  No cars on the Island, so we had to walk or take water transport.  We walked through the narrow streets and passed many campo (squares), stopping for dinner in a very pleasant garden setting.  We stopped briefly at the Rialto Bridge  for some quick photos and then some of us walked again through the maze of streets. The sun was setting  as we arrived at the Piazza San Marco, the main tourist area of the Island, where we meeting up with the rest of the group who jumped on one of the water buses.  Then we all took the water bus to where we could catch the bus back to the hotel.  That was fine until we reached our drop off point but where to go then.....we had to ask directions to get back to the hotel.. A great adventure and experience in a new country.  Tired, we dropped straight into bed !!

Saturday 6 May
A cooler morning but scenery was lush and green everywhere as we travelled North East towards the Italian coastline.  In the distance we could see the Apennine mountain chain which extends the length of Italy but shrouded in clouds today.  Everyone enjoyed the coach ride through the interesting countryside.  We arrived at Pisa, ahead of many of the usual crowds, and made our way past several market stalls selling the usual touristy items, arriving at the entrance to a large grassed Piazza (square) to see the "Leaning Tower" which makes the city famous.  Already leaning when completed in 1372, the white marble cylinder is the bell tower of the Cathedral.  Also in the Piazza is the Baptistry whose renowned acoustics are used extensively for various musical performances.  Carol had a go at holding up the tower, as did everyone else.
As we were leaving it started raining and this accompanied us along the narrow Tuscany roads to our luncheon destination at one of the top wine making Chianti estates.  A great meal which everyone enjoyed.  The rain cleared but a cool wind encouraged us back into the coach for our return to the hotel, again through winding country roads, passing one of the 46 Allied war cemeteries on the way.  Not so much walking today so a really enjoyable day.

Friday 5 May
Florence, just an hour away on a local coach, was our destination for the day.  A local guide showed us the highlights inspiring us with stories of the history and development of the city.
Once again one of the early Roman cities, but only developed around 60 AD as a major centre.  Medieval development by the wealthy merchants who specialised in gold and leather products saw the gradual expansion of the city to its present tourist size.  Cathedrals and churches of all sizes were in abundance.  Because of government meetings in the town hall we were limited to some of the area we could visit, but we did see the statue of David and of the course the  Pont Vecchio, one of the bridges over the River Tabor, which has several shops on the bridge all selling gold products.   It was good to get back on the coach for a rest after a ward day walking and lots of ice cream and pizza.

Thursday 4 May
A great day out.  A short drive took us to  San Gimignano up in the Tuscan hills.  Very much a medieval town, defined as the town with a hundred towers.  Taxes were based on the land area of the house so the wealthy built upwards, symbolising power as well as wealth.  Now just fourteen towers remain but these are still impressive.  We all loved the narrow streets and picturesque buildings.  It was market day too so we enjoyed exploring the various stalls.  High above the town were the remains of a fortress, with wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.  Most of us tried the local ice cream with its variety of flavours.
Following this visit we travelled on to Siena, which is reputed to be the Pearl of Tuscany.  We were fortunate to be able to take escalators to the Cathedral which saved us walking several hundred steps up the hillside.  Siena is famous all over the world for the medieval Pali horse racing event which attracts thousands - fortunately not while we there.  The highlight of the town, apart from the cathedral was the massive square, surrounded by the town hall and dozens of apartments and hotels, and restaurants which all had wonderful views of the square.
Back to the hotel to enjoy a three course Italian style meal.

Wednesday 3 May
Woke to a beautiful, though cool morning.  After a good breakfast all 19 of us climbed into our 55 seat coach....plenty of space to select where would like to sit and very good for the photographers.  Departing at 8.15 we crawled through the narrow busy streets to the outskirts of the city and thence on to the Autostrade to travel North through the beautiful Umbria countryside.  After a couple of hours we arrived at an ancient town known for its outstanding Cathedral.  Orvieto can trace its history back to the third century BC when Rome was at its height.  After the Roman decline the area began to flourish again in the Middle Ages with the building of the Cathedral.  We travelled up to the Cathedral by funicular railway and a short walk and there before us was this magnificent Cathedral.  On the plateau adjoining the Cathedral is the whole historical city of Orvieto with many narrow streets lined with small shops many of which were selling some beautiful ceramics. We explored the area for a couple of hours before returning to the coach for our journey through the Tuscan Hills to Poggibonsi where we will be based for four nights.  Wandered around the small town but could not find much to look at.  Back to the hotel for dinner and a good rest.

Yes said Carol we are in Poggibonsi an unforgettable place!

Tuesday 2 May.

In daylight the hotel was even better with each of our rooms  having its own balcony and a great breakfast room, with outside dining area as well.  There is even a gymnasium for those so inclined.  After a good breakfast we made our way to the local subway for a trip into town.  Crowded carriages, but fortunately not too far to go.  The group split up as we had different interests.  Exploring the narrow streets and various sized squares all with interesting shops of all shapes and sizes.  Small market areas just seemed to appear round a corner, sometimes with just a few stalls and at other times quite a lot.  Various tourist spots were visited and many photos taken.  Some of the group took a hop on hop off bus which provides a good overview of the city and its places of interest.  A couple visited the Vatican with its wonderful treasures.  St Peters Square is huge and as always had hundreds of people, many queuing to visit the Vatican.  A tiring day and good to get back to the hotel where we are to meet our tour guide for the next 15 days.

Note the Duck Tree

Sunday 30 April

An early morning start for an 0830 flight to Seoul, where we had an overnight stopover to break the journey.  An uneventful flight with good food and some interesting inflight movies which most of us enjoyed.  Korean Air provided us the hotel accommodation and our transfer took us into the city of Incheon, some 20 minutes from the airport.  A luxury hotel with great amenities and great food and a very comfortable bed.

Monday 1 May

We awoke to a very misty morning.  After a good breakfast we all explored Central Park, right opposite the hotel.  With the sun trying hard to break through the mist changed the the scenery all the time so getting good photos was not easy.  In the park there was a deer sanctuary and "rabbit island" where there were several large rabbits.  At one end of the park there were some very interesting sculptures and buildings alongside a large lake.
Our daytime flight to Rome was delayed by an hour because of congestion over China.  We wondered if the North Korean situation might have had some bearing on this.  The long flight of over 12 hours was very tiring and we were all very pleased to land as the sun was going down over the Italian countryside outside Rome.  Italian immigration and customs was straightforward and it was easy to find our driver for the trip into Rome. Our transfer took about half an hour through some interesting suburbs of Rome, with double parking on many streets which made navigation through them very interesting.  The hotel from the outside seemed rather innocuous, but a pleasant surprise on the inside with very comfortable rooms.