The Venetian Affair Part 2 Venice, Lucern, Frankurt, The Rhine, Amsterdam Bruge London Paris and Home.
After completing 3 magnificent days in Venice, visiting the Murano Glass factory, St Marks Square, the Bridge of Sighs (where dearly beloved bought Cameos and some gold jewellery) and undertaking a romantic Gondola ride, we were ready to depart for Lucern Switzerland.
We were now thoroughly familiar with the Vaporetto water taxi system and lugged the luggage (We know why it is called luggage) to St Marks Square taxi stop. From here we were on our way to the grand station water stop. We found the train easily and were delighted to find a wonderful aircraft style seating arrangement split into groups of 4. This was very comfortable and silent and set off for our 4 hour train journey. The sights as we came closer to the Alps first the Italian Alps and the Swiss Alps were magnificent and there was snow on the peaks. We arrive in Lucerne. Switzerland is beautiful, clinically clean.
I was now quite blasé about going to the last minute accommodation booth in the station and found a suitable hotel within walking distance. However relying on our trusty Lonely planet guide, we also wanted to book a trip on the cable car to Mt Pilatus. Our friendly lady at the information booth told us that it was closed due to avalanche danger from melting snow, but if we hurried we could get a ferry across lake Lucern to Viznau and there take a funicular up Mount Rigi. She also told us that the Hotel on top was the one used recently (2005 March) in the making of the James bond movie.
Anyhow we hustled and left our Luggage at the train station ran to the ferry station and getting aboard the boat in the nick of time. We had a leisurely cruise and got off at Viznau and caught the special train. This was designed for climbing mountains.
The view from the top was spectacular. Dearly beloved has never seen snow. She put her arms around me and just cried in wonderment and happiness. We now had a choice, go back on the train or go down on a cable car. We opted for the cable car which came down in the next town but this was on the circular ferry route and we could get back to Lucerne.
We had glass of alcohol laced chocolate on the boat, arrived back, collected our luggae and found the hotel for check-in.
The Swiss Alpine Band.
We now showered and planned dinner. Our lonely planet pointed out the best eating placed (for best read cheap). Of we went looking at various places along the way and found a Brau haus with a Swiss band entertainment and food which fitted our budget. We had a ball.
The next day it was onward to Germany. But first we visited the the fourteenth-century covered Kapellbrücke, This a bridge built of wood with fabulous paintings. It burnt down but was restored with additional paintings that were stored when the bridge was shortened at some time in its history.
We boarded the train later in the day for Frankfort.
On arrival in Frankfort we had already decided that Ibis hotels were the closest to a Holiday Inn at a reasonable price (around 50 Euros per room per night). Our last Hotel being an Ibis. We booked in advance from our Lucerne hotel and got he address and how to get there. We now braved the bus system. At this point I need to digress a bit. Suitcases even with wheels are not ideal for cobblestones and bridges (Venice) or getting on and off trains, busses , subways and the like! I had become the pack Donkey lugging cases on and off the various transport modes. My dearly beloved soon discovered that I knew and used (initially under my breath) many of them with regard to the cases and the female need for far too many clothes despite my advising her what would be ideal. I might add these cases just got heavier and heavier over time. Both the contents and the increased weariness at dragging them around added to the weight..
We found the Hotel reasonably easily (eventually). We went to a local restaurant wwhere my limited German got us through and we finally fell into bed. The next morning I went for a run. I used the run as a scouting expedition to find where the boats leave for the daily trips up the Rhine. Mission accomplished. Once again we had to move quickly to get to the mooring point in time for booking of tickets and embarking. We saw the Castles. We went on to stops at Koblenz, Mainz, Lorelei, Boppard, and St Goar, where we had lunch in a lovely little restaurant,called Brinkhoff. We also saw The Home of Steiff teddy bears (The ones with buttons in their ears) as well as seeing the largest cuckoo clock in the world. This clock was even more unique in that it showed a working face on both sides which required some pretty fancy clock mechanics to achieve that feat. We took a local train back to Mainz where we stayed overnight agin in an Ibis hotel. We then took a train to Amsterdam. We had lso booked an Ibis ahead from the previous hotel but..... We could not find the Hotel and it was miles out of Amsterdam. We then cancelled our accommodation not realizing it was Easter weekend and no accommodation was available. Ouch! We tried to get our Ibis booking back but no luck that roo was now gone too! Well by now dearly beloved was most unhappy at my idiocy. The recent successes at the previous ports of call were promptly forgetten. I wa now under severe pressure. Brainwave Airport Holiday weekend! Presto Hilton at the Airport special reduced rate for weekend Hurray! It was about 125 Euros for two nights for the room only. We took it. After all it was only a 15 minute train ride to the city and we had our Eurail pass after all! The Keukenhof tulip and flower show is only on once a year in spring for about a week. Guess what it was on at this time! Serendipity plays her hand and we managed to book a bus tour to see the flowers. Madame was as happy as Larry and the previous lapse was forgotten. We also found a great Spanish restaurant in the Walletjies and I walked dearly beloved through th famous red light district where th girls sold their souls (actually bodies) through shop windows. We also visited the sex museum and a "coffee shop" which sold cannabis and plants legally.
Two nights in Amsterdam and we were off again. Train to Brussels. We opted to prebook after our Amsterdam experience, Ibis again in Brussels. On the train we meet a pilot who flies out of Amsterdam but lives in Brussels. He tells us about Bruges where we were planning to go anyway but just a half day on the way to Calais. We arrive in Brussels which has 3 main stations and we are helped to the right one by a friendly (and pretty) local lass.
We get off the train and fall over drunks and drug addicts (needle still in arm) sprawled near the exit to the station. We agree to make a quick change to our itinerary. Find out what time the next train to Bruges leaves and book accordingly. Cancel the Ibis booking. Sme people never learn do they?
It is now quite late in the evening and after changing trains halfway. A neat European trick that. We almost missed that one but some how when the lights on the train went off we figured that some thing was up and we successfully changed to the right train The station was called Kortrijk. The remark about change made in a heavy Belgian accent then turned on the lights in my brain to make up for the lights that went off on the train. Any how, we now arrive in Bruges. We don't find an information kiosk. Oops!But we do find a neat board with buttons next to hotel names. You push one of the buttons and are connected to a hotel. This is great, but all the hotels are full. Everyone is very helpful even phoning other hotels for you. Eventually we find one, the Sofitel about 200 euros per night. Very steep for us but we have to sleep. We are now instructed on what trolley bus to take and where to get off. We negotiate this and arrive at the Hotel tired and travel weary. The receptionist is great but tells us we will be lucky to get dinner as most of the restaurants close at 10pm but there is one nearby on the square we could try. It turns out to be a fabulous restaurant called the Krikkerconcert. We make friends with the lady owner, who used to live in South Africa. We have genuine Brussels mussels for dinner at an incredibly reasonable price. We get told about Bruges, where to go what to do. We sleep, the next day after I go for my run to reconnoiter the town, we do our whistle-stop tour of the town. Chocolates, lace shop (dearly buys a sample of Belgian lace), horse drawn buggies on the town square, the local university and the church all are duly visited. We dash back to the hotel for our luggage, board the trolley for the station, sad to leave this chocolate box, picture petty town.
Liille Calais Dover London
We board the train, confidently change at Kortrijk for Lille. We have lunch in Lille (more Brussels mussels) and take the local (ugh) train to Calais. Lonely planet tells that there is a free bus to the ferry from Calais station to the harbor. This is no longer there but eventually we discover an irregular local bus. Pay our fair and arrive at the harbor. Customs are rude and difficult and we miss our ferry. But these ferries are quite regular and the next leaves in an hour.. We are concerned that we may miss our train from Dover to London.
We finally board the ferry and finally we get see the famous white cliffs of Dover (Vera Lynn singing in your head etc). They are quite small grey and disappointing. Beloved has at least seen them and Very Lynn did not play in our heads. Customs in England are even more difficult and rude. We discover later from a fellow traveler that this route is a known smuggling route for duty free cigarettes and alcohol. We were part of only a handful of passengers who boarded on foot. These ferries are car ferries and almost all passengers drove their cars, SUVs and minivans (mostly used for smuggling) onto the boat.
We get a bus to the train station. I decide to check whether my Eurail pass is valid for the train. Guess what. It is not in England (it is valid in Ireland - if only I had Known).I duly pay the fare and we are off to Paddington, tube system et al and arrive at our hotel. This one was pre-booked by our travel agent when booked the airfare. The Hotel is Bloomingdales on Russell Square. Ugh thousands of rooms grotty overcrowded tourist hotel. I know London well so we use the tubes shop at Harrod's go to Hyde park etc. We then decide not to use the Eurostar back to Paris. We are "trained out" and decide to fly instead. Also I was concerned about the packing weight etc of our baggage and by flying from London we would be practicing so to speak.
Booking the Flight to Paris
I decide to book the flight from my cell phone in Harrod's. Quite a mission, I give my credit card details and then find my card is declined. My card company decides that I should not be in London booking a flight! I then get a call from the Credit card Company asking if my card has been stolen. I m rapidly losing patience, I am getting an international Cell call at ny expense declining my purchase. I gently go ape shit explaining all of this to the credit card company. People are giving me strange looks. Dearly beloved is obliviously shopping for teddy bears and London busses for the grandchildren. I give another credit card to the airline. Booking made. How did it go says dearly beloved. I grit my teeth and say "fine"!
We finish up our London leg take the tube to Airport, fly to Paris and transfer to the airline for our trip home.
While sitting in the airport lounge we hear a couple speaking Afrikaans (one of our 11 official languages. We yelp with glee, embrace the strangers and we become instant friends boned in our quest to bord the plane and go home!