Here it is, the final post of the year and also post number 101! Where has the time gone!
We have been home for a week or so now and I think it’s time for a quick recap of our last days in Europe this year. When we booked our airfares at the start of the year we decided to fly home from Milan via Singapore to Christchurch, giving us the option of a wee side trip to Italy before heading home. Looking at train options from Auxerre, where the boat will spend the winter, to Milan we decided on a couple of days in Geneva on the way through Switzerland.
Geneva is gorgeous, especially with the wonderful weather we had.
Lake Leman (aka Lake Geneva) is very large lake taking 45 minutes on the train from one end to the other. And so beautiful. Having only 2 nights in Geneva we made the most of it spending our one full day taking the free public transport (curtesy of Hotel Astoria, a very nice 3* hotel with lovely friendly staff and a British pub next door convenient for us to watch the All Blacks play Tonga in the pool play for the Rugby World Cup) using the taxi boats to cross the lake and buses and trams to see the sights. Highlights included the highly decorated Maccabee chapel in the Cathédrale St Pierre, which otherwise is quite austerely decorated, the Reformation Wall, beautifully maintained, and of course the stunning lake. The weather was great, cool but fine, perfect for sightseeing. We took a tram to the United Nations Headquarters and the International Red Cross Museum, particularly of interest to Alan as he spent a few months flying for the Red Cross in the late 70’s, based in Bangkok and flying to Cambodia.
Apparently Geneva is the second most expensive city in the world, only pipped by New York. A cup of coffee cost 5.40 Swiss francs or about NZ$7 or 8. Ouch!
Another enjoyable train trip and we arrived in Milan. We had booked a night at the Idea Hotel (friendly staff again, small but perfectly formed. The room not the staff) by the station and the next morning picked up a rental car from Locauto (nice car, friendly service but we did have to wait a couple of hours for our car to be ready) and headed down to Tellaro on the Ligurian Coast. What a stunning place! A recommendation to stay at the Locunda Miranda (classic name) was bang on the money with an amazing view of the Ligurian Sea from our room and a balcony where we sat back with a glass of wine and watched the sunset. The elderly Señora who ran the place was delightful, and she must be fit with all the stair climbing, no lifts in this old place. We had a genuine ‘wow’ moment when she opened the shutters in the darkened room, threw back the windows to display that gorgeous view.
After a couple of wonderful days exploring the narrow alleys that lead down to the sea, sipping wine at Bar Le Marina while watching activity at the little port overlooked by a pink and white washed chapel and congratulating ourselves on finding such an untouched Italian gem, we reluctantly said arrivederci and headed north along the coast to Portofino. Another stunning town, although this one full of tourists, we enjoyed lunch here then headed back along the scarily narrow roads this time heading to Lake Como.
Things took a turn for the worse here when our very annoying GPS became truly the devil, sending us through the middle of Milan, during rush hour, on a Friday, in the misty rain, when we didn’t want to go to Milan at all. Our evil GPS was just warming up though and the next few hours, as the skies darkened and the roads grew narrower, we negotiated one goat track after another in our mission to find Bellagio on the eastern side of Lake Como. It was dark and wet when we finally arrived and as we hadn’t made any reservations we basically went into the first hotel we came across and begged for a room. The Hotel Excelsior Splendide (love that name) was built in 1907 in the Art Nouveau style and is gorgeous with a sweeping staircase, a dodgy lift and stunning views from our Juliet balcony overlooking the lake and towards Menaggio on the other side.
Bellagio must be crazy in summer but in mid October it’s a delight. Lots of high end and also not too expensive boutiques, loads of restaurants and bars and you can jump on one of the many frequent ferries hopping between the different towns on the shores of Lake Como. We drove around the lake one day then drove onto the car ferry and was delivered back to Bellagio in time for dinner. We did see George Clooney’s house although the man himself was elusive even when we stopped in Como for lunch. The main event there that day was a car rally and I just can’t imagine how scary that must be considering how narrow the roads are here.
Eventually it was, sadly, time to leave and to drive back to Milan for our flight the next day. We decided to make a detour to Sesto Calende, Lake Maggiore and that evil GPS had its final thrust at us by sending us in every direction other than the one in which should have been heading. I’m not going to lie, this time I did get just a teeny bit annoyed (ok I was mad) but we did finally make it to an airport hotel where we watched the All Blacks thrash France which was satisfying. Very unsatisfying was the next morning when we found out we had had a free minibar (not sure why) which we under-utilised in a big way. An opportunity missed there. Tragic.
Finally we flew out of Malpensa to Singapore and after a 10 hour stopover on to Christchurch and home for the next six or seven months. We have moved into our inner city apartment and are now grappling with how to jam all our stuff into 70sq meters. It’s palatial compared to living on a boat so we are enjoying the space!
It has been a wonderful year filled with adventure, a few breakdowns and lots of sun. We have met some amazing people who have reaffirmed that on the canals you are part of a moving village where everyone helps each other because we are all in the same boat, so to speak. Silver Fern is hopefully tucked up in a big shed in Auxerre, awaiting her new paint job and we can’t wait to return next season, this time perhaps heading North out of Burgundy with a little trip to Paris along the way. Thanks to everyone for reading this blog. I appreciate the comments and interest from here and Facebook and I’ll see you all back here next year!