France, Switzerland & Italy…


The next leg of our trip was to take us to the Côte d’Azur and then Paris for a week, where we holidayed with my brother David and his friends Ray and Neil. We stayed at a fantastic seaside hotel called Hôtel la Jabotte which is located in the popular resort town of Antibes in the south-east of France. We holidayed for a week and really enjoyed the local restaurants, swimming in the Mediterranean and the visiting local sites (Garoupe Lighthouse, Port Vauban and walking around the impressive coastline). The only disappointment to the trip was the return rail trip, via the TGV, from Antibes to Paris. We had a 6 hour breakdown between Antibes and Saint Raphael but a bottle of wine and humour eased the pain.

We arrived in Paris at midnight and after checking into our hotel, Elysee Gare de Lyon, we went to the local bistro for a Braised steak au Poivre with pommes frites and a glass of the local red. We spent 3 days in Paris. The highlights were a night cruise on the Seine River and seeing the laser light show on the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, Jardin de Luxembourg and Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. Biggest disappointment was visiting the Bastille Saint-Antoine which unfortunately is only a traffic roundabout with a monument, damn the revolution…

Once back from France we got ready for the train trip to the south of Italy to visit Gaby’s Uncles and Aunties in Battipaglia and Cagli, this would involve a long rail trip from Basel in Switzerland to Bari in the south of Italy.

First we did a quick trip to Schaffhausen and Neuhausen in the north of Switzerland. When we previously lived in Switzerland we rented an apartment at Neuhausen am Rheinfall. This area of Switzerland boarders Germany and The Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest water falls, are a major tourist attraction in northern Switzerland.

We took the  train from Basel to Brig, through the new Lötschberg Tunnel (14.612 km) and then jumped aboard the Glacier Express for Zermatt where we hoped to catch up with our friends Bruno and Madeleine Jelk. Bruno is the rescue chief with Air Zermatt, a position he has held since 1980 and is an internationally recognised alpine rescue expert. I had spent a number of summers working with Bruno at Zermatt and he had also visited us when we lived at Aoraki Mt Cook village in New Zealand. Unfortunately Bruno and Madeline were not in Zermatt when we visited so it was back on the train and next stop Domodossola across the border in Italy. We had passed through Domodossola a number of times without stopping, so it was nice to have the time to have a coffee in the Palazzo Silva and look around the historic architecture.

Later that afternoon we arrived in Milan and, having never been there, we walked into the city from the train station to the famous La Scala Opera House and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Milan is an interesting city, large but with plenty to do and see and somewhere we would like to revisit.

So, with a night train to catch we were off to Piacenza  where we had a pizza and Campari (or 2…) in a pizzeria located in the Piazza dei cavalla before boarding the train (2 bed sleeping compartment), next stop Bari. From Bari we mistakenly took a train to the port town of Taranto, a heavily industrialised town famous for its steel and iron foundries, oil refineries and chemical works. Tourism does not appear to be a major attraction and the town certainly reflected the significant economic crisis that Italy was currently in.

We eventually made it to Battipaglia where we stayed with Uncle Vito and Auntie Angela; the great thing about visiting Gaby’s relatives in Italy is the great food and cooking and this was certainly served up in large helpings. Once we left Battipaglia we did the train journey, via Rome, to Cagli.

Gaby’s Uncle Jean’Pierre and Auntie Antoinette reside in Luxemburg, but during the summer they move to the small renovated farmhouse in the hills above Cagli where they holiday for up to 3 months. This area has a great climate (it is on the Adriatic side of Umbria and Tuscany) and is very close to the popular beaches around Pesaro. The small village where the farmhouse is located is surrounded by forests of oak, chestnut and macchia, deer, wild boar and wolves all live in the forest and it’s also a recognised area for the elusive white truffle.

This trip around Italy was during the height of summer, trains were full and space was at a premium but we had a great time catching up with the relatives, enjoying great Italian hospitality and the hot weather.