> SlowTrav > Stories > Pauline's Pages > 1997, Italy, Switzerland

Summer 1997 - Italy and Switzerland

Arrive in Switzerland

Tuesday May 20

Delta Airlines from Albuquerque to Cincinnati to Zurich.

Wednesday May 21

Took a taxi to the hotel (50sf, compared to 30sf for airport bus - taxi is better).

Hotel Glockenhof (early checkin). This is a 4 star hotel and was more expensive than ones we had stayed in before, but was well worth it. The room was spacious, the bathroom fabulous, the location great, great breakfast room (or have it sent up to the room), helpful staff. Usually we get off the plane and step into a room so small that you can barely move.

Thursday May 22

Spent the day in Zurich. The book store Orel Fussli book store (across from the hotel) has a great selection of hiking books and maps.

Friday May 23

Took a taxi to EuropeCar. It turned out that AutoEurope sent us to an out of the way office, when there were 2 downtown and they didn't really know how to process us, so it took 1 1/2 hours to do the paperwork. But the woman was very nice and we got a brand new Volkswagen Golf (5500km), automatic, no air, but a sunroof.

Drove to Lucerne-took only 45 minutes and we didn't take one wrong turn.

Drove back to Zurich and straight to the hotel with never a wrong turn. A miracle! But, we drove in the streetcar lanes by mistake and almost got hit by an approaching streetcar. And Steve noticed that people turn off their engines when waiting at red lights, so he tried it and, when the light turned green (they flash yellow/red first) he tried to start the car in drive, almost stalled out, and by the time he got it started he made it through the light, but the people beeping behind didn't.

Walked along the lake. Friday night, lots of people out. Some obviously Swiss (reserved, neat, well dressed), but many more flamboyant ethnic types-eastern Europe, east Indian, Italian. Lots of young people. Zurich was beautiful tonight. The city is small and you can see the wooded hills nearby, the lake and rivers that the city surrounds, the Alps in the distance.

Tomorrow we head south, through the alps. We will probably be in warm weather. So far we have worn long sleeved T-shirts, pants and our dress jackets every day.

Saturday May 24

Drove from Zurich, through the 17 kilometer long Gottard Tunnel (it takes 20 exhaust filled minutes to drive through it), to Locarno on Lake Maggiore (where we spent a week in 1996). You enter the tunnel in German Switzerland (the exit signs say "Ausfahrt") and you come out in Italian Switzerland (the exit signs say "Uscita"!

1 night hotel: Albergo Reber au Lac, lake front room, 400 CHF ($284.91). We booked this hotel by fax from home before we left. Very expensive, but a wonderful hotel right on the lake. Our room is smaller than I had pictured (for the price), but the balcony is bigger and is only 150' from the lake. We are on the second floor. We woke up in the middle of the night to see a full moon shining on the lake. One of those sights I will never forget.

Into Italy - 3 nights in Camaiore, 3 nights in Spoleto

Sunday May 25

Drove into Italy to Camaiore, in northern Tuscany.

3 nights hotel: Locanda Le Monache. Booked through The Parker Company. Not very expensive (about $250 for 3 nights, 3 breakfast, 1 dinner), but not a great hotel. It is on the main square and you hear vespas all night long.

Monday May 26

We were planning to go to Portovenere for lunch, but missed the turn in La Spezia and ended up climbing up the hill heading towards Cinque Terre! I remembered that the first town, Riomaggiore, is supposed to be easy to get to and popular, so we went there (because it was impossible to turn the car around). We had planned to avoid Cinque Terre because it has become very popular and the towns are difficult to drive to. We were right - the road down to the town was hair-raising! I just clenched everything and chanted "slower, slower" until Steve, the driver, said "we can't go any slower". Finally we snaked our way down to the town and pulled into the car park. Then we walked down further through narrow streets, tall old buildings, to the sea.

Had a fabulous lunch in one of the 3 restaurants, all in the main, tiny square.

Lots of young people with knapsacks walking by - hiking between the 5 towns. The first part is easy, but the rest of the trail is supposed to be steep in parts, and very exposed to the hot sun. I think the hiking in the countryside is much better-so we didn't plan to do any of this trail.

Drove to Portovenere - further down the coast from Cinque Terre. Drove for about 30 minutes on a winding road to the end - Portovenere on the seaside, where Byron lived. Shelley lived across the bay in Lerici and drowned there. Walked all around the town - lots of cats, but not as many as promised in the guide books. A small town, but very charming with narrow walkways and stairs up the hill. It was hot and a few people were swimming.

Tuesday May 27

Part of a long set of fire instructions on the back of the hotel door:

Don't smoke in bed, especially WHEN YOU ARE TIRED.

Drove the mountain road to Lucca-beautiful drive. Had lots of trouble parking in Lucca, ended up in a pay lot after going by others that were full or where someone else grabbed the spot. I think people come in the morning for the shopping. Walked around, coffee in a square named for Bonaparte's sister (beautiful big trees), saw the Duomo. Found a place for lunch. A great meal. For contorni we had  zucchini that was steamed whole and served with olive oil for garnish - delicious.

Walked halfway along the walls - they were built in the 1500's and made into a tree-lined boulevard in the 1800's. You could see into people's back yards. Cars are not allowed in Lucca, yet you are always trying to avoid cars, vespas, bicycles. Saw the place where the Roman Amphitheatre has been - the shape remains because of the houses built around it.

As we got back to our already noisy hotel, a group of about 20 guys (on a bicycle race) were checking in. We were standing outside with ice cream dripping all over us - the best gelati is across the street from the hotel. They put a banner out the window beside our room. At first we thought they were a football team in town for a game (there is a stadium), and were worried about more noise, but they turned out to be a well-mannered group of bicyclists.

Wednesday May 28

Drove to Spoleto, in southern Umbria.

3 nights hotel: Hotel San Luca. Booked through The Parker Company. This hotel was wonderful.

Thursday May 29

Woke up to church bells at 7:00, followed by male voices (monks?) chanting, then male and female chanting. Magical, but still went back to sleep. Explored Spoleto - a wonderful town.

Visited the Duomo-fabulous. Great frescos, Jesus on the cross from the 1100's, and the piazza outside is beautiful.

Friday May 30

Did a hike over the Roman bridge (Ponte delle Tori), then up the hill to Montefulco hoping to find a place for lunch. We discovered that this is just a summer holiday area and nothing was open except a snack quiosk and the bus we had planned to take back to town was not running, so we had a snack and walked back. It was very hot today (pants and short sleeves), but it cools down at night. Always long sleeves and jacket at night.

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