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.

Our Itinerary

Day Date Event
Day 1 Sat 26 April 2014 Arrive Heathrow, train to Kings Cross, walk to local hotel.
Day 2 Sun 27 April 2014 Train to Reading to visit friends for the day.
Day 3 Mon 28 April 2014 Eurostar to Paris, Metro to Rue St Michel. Trip on the Seine and dinner at Chez Paul.
Day 4 Tues 29 April 2014 Paris: stroll on Rive Gauche to Place de la Concorde. Les Invalides, Eiffel Tower.
Day 5 Wed 30 April 2014 Back to the Eiffel Tower to complete the voyage to the top, then the Metro to Cemetery Père Lachase.
Day 6 Thurs 1 May 2014 This was planned to be the Palace of Marseille, but.. on 1 May everything is closed. First we walked through Jardin des Tuileries, then a brief visit to Arc de Triomphe to confirm it too was closed. So we tried Sacré Coeur in the rain and so did everybody else in Paris. Finally the Eiffel Tower by night.
Day 7 Fri 2 May 2014 Paris to Lausanne by train, the TGV Lyria.
Day 8 Sat 3 May 2014 Lausanne markets in the morning and a cruise on Lake Geneva from Lausanne to Chillon Castle in the afternoon.
Day 9 Sun 4 May 2014 Lausanne to Zermatt by train, then a trip up close to the Matterhorn in brilliant weather.
Day 10 Mon 5 May 2014 Train up the mountain to Gonergrat. Another stunning day with wonderful views of the Matterhorn.
Day 11 Tues 6 May 2014 After a wonderful sunrise on the Matterhorn, we took the Glacier Express to St Moritz.
Day 12 Wed 7 May 2014 St Moritz to Pontresina, the Bernina Express to Tirano in Italy and finally a local train to Milan Centrale.
Day 13 Thurs 8 May 2014 Train from Milan to Rimini on the Adriatic Coast. Sunshine and warm weather at last!
Day 14 Fri 9 May 2014 Bus tour to San Marino.
Day 15 Sat 10 May 2014 Train to Florence (via Bologna) and a walk around parts of the city.
Day 16 Sun 11 May 2014 Florence - across the Ponte Vecchio and up the hill to the Piazzale Michelangelo for a view of the city. Followed by a bus trip out to the Florence Commonwealth War Cemetery.
Day 17 Mon 12 May 2014 Inside the Cathedrale Santa Maria del Fiore, a climb up Giotto's Tower and the Baptistry. Then the Basilica di Santa Croce with its many tombs of famous people.
Day 18 Tues 13 May 2014 High-speed train to Rome. Walk to the Colesseum and Forum in the rain. Meet Tempo Tour people in evening.
Day 19 Wed 14 May 2014 In the footsteps of Mussolini.
Day 20 Thurs 15 May 2014 Rome to Ortona by coach. Visit to the Ssango River War Cemetery.
Day 21 Fri 16 May 2014 By coach to Castelfrantano, Orsogna and back across Italy to Cassino.
Day 22 Sat 17 May 2014 Cassino - ceremony at the Railway Station.
Day 23 Sun 18 May 2014 The New Zealand service at Cassino War Cemetery.
Day 24 Mon 19 May 2014 The Commonwealth Service.
Day 25 Tues 20 May 2014 Back to Rome via Anzio.
Day 26 Wed 21 May 2014 Join the Globus Tour party for the coach to Tuscany.
Day 27 Thurs 22 May 2014 Another day in Florence.
Day 28 Fri 23 May 2014 Leaning Tower of Pisa and then Venice.
Day 29 Sat 24 May 2014 Venice.
Day 30 Sun 25 May 2014 Venice to Assisi.
Day 31 Monday 26 May 2014 Assisi to Pompeii and boat to Isle of Capri.
Day 32 Tuesday 27 May 2014 A day on Capri including Ana Capri and the home of Axel Munthe.
Day 33 Wed 28 May 2014 Back to the mainland at Sorrento and a tour along the Amalfi coast.
Day 34 Thurs 29 May 2014 An early morning flight out of Rome back to Heathrow. Picked up a rental car and drove north to Stoke on Trent.
Day 35 Fri 30 May 2014 Our last day. Drove back to Heathrow. Boarded NZ2 for our flight back home

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Last updated: 17/11/2014