Holidaying in Europe - France, Switzerland and Italy - April to June 2014
It was now three years since we had been to the Northern Hemisphere. The year 2014 was the year of several World War II 70th commemorations, including the D-Day Landings and the battles for Monte Cassino in Italy. As my father had been to the 50th and 60th commemorations for Cassino (and had been there in 1944 as well) we decided to use this as the excuse to visit Italy. The Cassino services were to be in mid-May, so that set the date for our trip. It meant we could arrive in late Spring, before the hot weather and before the main influx of tourists swamped the place.
Having decided on Italy it was then a case of how to get there and what to see along the way. We decided to fly Air New Zealand and that meant we would have to go through Los Angeles. We had avoided this place on all our previous travels, but Air New Zeland no longer flies all the way to London via Asia. It would have to be flights NZ1 and NZ2 to Heathrow.
The other reason to go via Heathrow was to visit an old school friend who now lived just out of London. From there we could take the Eurostar to Paris, stay there a few days (we had always been promising ourselves this) and then by train to France. Our friend in London had referred us to a wonderful website that covered all the trains in Europe - The Man in Seat 61 - and he recommended travelling through the Swiss Alps to Zermatt then taking the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express through Switzerland and into Italy. So we did. And what a wonderful trip it proved to be.
We booked onto one of the Cassino Commemoration tours, the one run by Greg Osborne of Tempo Holidays and to round out Italy and our touring experiences I also booked us on a 10-day coach tour of Italy Highlights run by Globus. I had expected the Globus tour to be filled with Australians, but no, it was us two Kiwis and 48 Americans. Oh well, they cannot all be as excrucuatingly bad as many would have you believe, and they weren't. We managed to get a decent group of fellow travellers.
So this is our five weeks in Europe, dominated by train travel, snow-covered mountains, yet more war cemeteries and crowds of people. Did we enjoy it? Would we do it all again you might ask? Well, yes we did enjoy every moment of it, even when the French and Italians were making a point of deliberately misunderstanding our rudimentary language skills (but we still cannot work out how the waiter in Milan got red wine (vino rosso) out of our very clear "vino BIANCO". Then again he did the same trick to the diners sitting behind us who even I could understand asked for "Vino bianco"). Go again? To some of Italy, yes! But perhaps we have seen enough of Florence, Venice and even Rome. Too many tourists....
Paul and Colma, July 2014
Getting there is not part of the fun, but ...
In comparison to our last trip to Britain, everything went according to plan. Got to the airport early, flights were on time and before we knew it we were onboard NZ2 bound for Los Angeles on a big B777-300. Cattle-class of course and I think the cattle byres had shrunk a bit. After 11 hours of good service, good food and a fitfull sleep we arrived in LAX, expecting the worst excesses of American Border Security - long queues, grumpy, humourless people, endless questions about why we want to visit the USA (we DON'T) etc. So it came as quite a surprise to be shepherded into a departure lounge and then invited (!!!) to go up at our leisure in small groups to check our passports. It was a revelation - US Immigration has never been so polite. But it was, and it made the 2 hours at LAX just a little bit more bearable. They even provided free drinks - water, Pepsi (not Coke), juice etc and a sludge that the Americans call coffee - and small packs of crisps, and best of all.... FREE wifi (yippeee!!!) courtesy of Air New Zealand - thanks!.
Then the 2 hours were up and we were back on the plane for another numbing 11 hours. At least we had the Air New Zealand food and service to look forward to and then our escape into Heathrow and then London.
Last updated: 17/11/2014