Train Holiday Memoirs – A Planet Rail Customer’s Account of their Train Holiday to Switzerland & Italy by Rail Part 14
October 7 2014
Yesterday was one of my favourite days of this holiday. Feeling better, we went out for a walk before we took the taxi to the station.
We went to the nearby church of Santa Maria del Popolo and managed a look round inside before the 8am mass started.
It is extremely ornate and quite beautiful apart from the rather grim skull statue near the door which seemed at odds with the overall beauty.
From there we walked to the Spanish steps through streets emptied of the shoppers Mel had encountered the previous nights. I had wondered what was special about the steps but when you see them like that there is no doubt about their appeal.
The views from the top are breathtaking especially in the low early morning sunlight.
Everywhere we looked we saw another old building we did not know and by now I had almost fallen for Rome. But it will always take second place to Florence.
Our free transfer to the station was easy and scare free and took half the time it took on arrival – perhaps we’d just been unlucky.
Rome station is huge. One of th benefits however was that I was delighted to find an international bookstore.
We bought the usual sandwiches as many of the trains do not have buffet cars and that proved the case with this one.
It seems ridiculous to us to have people travelling six hours without any form of catering.
As we waited on the platform for the train to arrive I became aware of a woman very close to me.
The more I moved, the closer she got and I became quite freaked out as I thought she was trying to steal from me.
Imagine my face when she ended up sitting in the seat next to me. What a bizarre coincidence!
Train to La Spezia arriving at Roma Termini
As the train approached we did not know where coach 1 would be (so far on the trip it has been marked on the electronic board.) Mel went to ask someone and was told it would either be at the front or the back.
Yes thank you, very useful.
The woman I mentioned in my last blog kept her coat on the whole four hours (she got off at our stop) and there was a vague odour of moth balls and unwashed bodies emanating from her.
We were right about the catering – there was no trolley service or buffet car.
I passed the time listening to Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film review podcast and looking out the window.
We saw the leaning tower of Pisa and after there the scenery became more and more interesting and dramatic.
We passed marble mountain and numerous white marble factories.
La Spezia station and town is much bigger than we had anticipated. At the station we visited the Cinque Terre tourist office and bought our passes. More on that later.
We have just left Rome station for La Spezia and we are 14 minutes late.
Just checked out the toilets on board the train, but they were the usual standard of UK trains – although they were big enough to swing a cat.
Every train we have been on has been different and I have had a job working out where the flush is (foot pedal, next to cistern or above the sink) and how to get soap and water.
The soap in this one was black and foul smelling.
Looking back to Manrola from train
Tuesday (yesterday) has been my favourite day so far this holiday.
As soon as we arrived in La Spezia we bought our Cinque Terre tickets which cover trains, buses and footpaths.
Without unpacking (a first for Mel) we set off all the way along the line to Monterosso.
I had read that the train journey was boring as most of the trip is in tunnels. And yes it is at times, but oh that first moment when you come out of the tunnel at Riomaggiore and for a fleeting few seconds you see the rocky coastline. Then it is gone again. Then it is back. Today when that moment arrived the whole train gasped together at the sheer beauty of that little diorama.
After that there are a series of windows through which you get a view before each village in turn is shown in all its glory.
It was another clear blue sky day and so we had a walk and a drink in a beach bar and I was sorely tempted to have a massage but did not have my swimmers with me.
We walked along to look for the boats and came across the wonderful statue you see below of a man holding up the cliffs.
Carved figure supporting bridge – Monterosso
As the forecast for the next day was not good we decided to take one of the boats all the way back to Monterosso so that we could see all five towns from the sea.
There was a huge queue for the 5pm ferry which was the last of the day at this time of year but we got on and had a prime seat at the front. Now I would not have chosen that seat if there had been any swell but it was flat calm and we had an amazing trip stopping off to let people off and on. One silly woman waited until we had left the dock and then rushed up and demanded that the crew went back and let her off.
They did it but they were not happy.
Neither were we happy with the gentleman who stood up all the way and blocked our view and everyone else’s.
Ferry at Monteross
Corniglia from ferry
Each of the towns is stunning, set as they are on the cliff sides but our favourite from the sea was Vernazza.
Vernazza from ferry
Vernazza from ferry
At Riomaggiore we went to two different bars and at the second one watched the sunset while we listened to the waves lapping against the cliffs.
A perfect day.
Sun going down – Riomaggiore
Sunset at wine bar in Riomaggiore
October 8, 2014
Footbridge to La Spezia Marina
We started the day with a walk to the harbour to see the boats and we came across this beautiful bridge.
View of La Spezia from marina
Next stop was the train station again and the short trip to Vernazza where we had lunch right near the harbour.
It was a dull day with afew spots of rain but we still ate outside.
We ordered fish soup which arrived in a huge wok and it was met with wide eyes from the other diners. It was our most expensive meal to date but it was worth it as it was chock full of whole fish, prawns, mussels and welks all in a very tasty tomato sauce. Brilliant.
When we first sat down there was a group of Americans at the next table. One of them had one of those deep drawls that gets into your brain.
She kept debating whether they should go elsewhere to eat even though they had already tucked into the bread and olive oil and were drinking wine.
After a full 15 minutes they got up and left.
We got chatting to the couple next to us who were also American and doing a grand tour. They recommended a hotel in Monterossa called the Colonnina and later in the day we went to check it out for future stays.
After lunch we went Manarola and had a walk around the headland. We decided not to go to the last of the five towns, Corniglia as it had 377 steps from the station to the town!
Manarola from cliff foot path
After a rest back at the hotel Firenze et Continentale we went back on the train to Monterosso and after some faffing and dithering had pizza for dinner.
On the way there we helped an American couple who did not get on the train at 5.01 because it “was not going.” I hope I did not sound too sarcastic when I said that it was not going because it was not time to go.
A Chinese girl got on and screamed with horror when her friend did not get on with her and she got out at the next station still looking very upset.
The trains between the five towns run frequently but they were extremely busy each time we got on them.
I had no idea that this was such a popular place, mostly for people hiking the paths. The two easy ones are still closed following landslides and i heard a few people talking about the other walks and saying they were much harder than advertised. Maybe next time we will do some of them.
Back to the hotel (which is the closest yet to a station) to pack up for our trip to Stresa tomorros.
Up early now to catch the 7.46 to Milan but found that the American party were also up at the crack of dawn and so breakfast was far from quiet!
This hotel was ok and very near the station but we had emailed ahead to ask for an upgrade and still the room was small and dark with a view over the back alley.
The bathroom was big and modern and it had a bath which always gets my vote however…
The train came in a little late and the platform was crowded so we had a slight panic as we did not know which end the first class carriage would be.
But by now we knew to stand at the other side of the platform so that if we had to run for it we got a clear pathway luck was on our side this time and it was near the front and we did not have far to go.
Imagine our delight when we found it was a nice train with old fashioned compartments!
For the first section we only had a couple of business men in with us and then an American couple got in and told us that I was in their seat.
We said that we were numbers 51 and 52 but she insisted that she was 52 and that I should move.
I did happily as she said she wanted to be next to her husband.
She never actually spoke to him again until just before they had to move.
Again, there was not buffet car and no trolley service which made us appreciate our trains back home a little more.
At the next stop a young man got in and insisted I was in his seat. I explained it was not my seat actually and that he should discuss it with the American woman. She (who had a face like the proverbial slapped arse) then demanded to see our tickets.
Now by this time the ticket inspector had been round and passed us all as ok.
The husband of said woman then said that they should have been in coach 2 not 1. With no apology or real thanks to Mel for lifting their cases down they left us in peace – bliss!
At Milan we had half an hour but that was not time enough to get a coffee or go to the loo as it was all just too busy. tWe did have time though to look at the architecture of Milan station – it’s fantastic.
We were pleased to see we were on a flash Swiss train but then less than pleased when one of the rogue porters grabbed our luggage before we could stop him and demanded money with menaces.
Mel did not relent and gave him the bare minimum.
Toilet on Swiss train from Milan to Stresa
Interior of Swiss train from Milan to Stresa
This train did have a trolley service (hooray!) and we could have had a full meal (at cost) or just a sandwich or drink.
We were only on for 45 minutes so we just had a coffee.
By the way the journey went by in a wash of rain and more rain (and then even more rain) but by the time we got to Stresa it was merely misty and damp.
A short walk to our hotel, Regina Palace which looked great from the outside. But now it’s time for my gin and tonic.
Hotel Regina Palace, Stresa
View from balcony – Hotel Regina Palace, Stresa