Monday, 3 February 2020

DoubleTree by Hilton (Brescia, Italy)

No breakfast in my room today. It was back to eating downstairs early this morning. I wanted to get down early because I didn’t want to eat scrambled eggs that had been sitting in the warming pan for over an hour. Being one of the few people in the hotel (because it opened only a couple of weeks ago), I doubt if many were eating breakfast this morning. And I was right. Even though I showed up at 7:30, I was the first person to scoop out a portion of scrambled eggs. They were still good though. (I’m writing this blog post in very good health.)

Getting up early gave me time for a nap before getting ready to leave for Trento. I was delayed at the front desk on the way out because I’m no longer using the credit card that used to book my stay. Probably due to language differences and the staff being new they couldn’t figure out how to charge my new card. I made sure they had my new card info and left for the train station. I wasn’t going to be late for this train.

All went well going to Trento, including my transfer to another train in Verona. I found the Airbnb flat easily but put in the wrong number into the lockbox to fetch the key to the flat. But I got it figured out and was able to get in. (I used the wrong number to open the lockbox.) Seems that it is now rare for an Airbnb host to welcome their guests.

I noticed a few items missing such as a toaster (not required), a kettle to heat up water, an oven, and the washing machine but found out later that it was located in the building’s basement. So much for the flat having a fully equipped kitchen as it claimed in their listing. Perhaps my standards have increased over the last 3+ years and also having stayed in places that truly had fully equipped kitchens. I’ll make do and it will be fine.

After getting a few items put away I took a nap. The bed is very comfortable! After my nap I continued to put things away and then left to go grocery shopping. The flat had a few essential items but I’ll need supplies for staying four nights.

The store was less than 50 meters away, which was very convenient, and had everything I needed. I broke down and bought another grater to make hash browns in the morning. My substitute for not having a toaster. When I left the store I had two full bags of groceries. Though thankful I didn’t have far to walk because as I was entering the building one of the bags fell apart and groceries went everywhere. The tenant in the flat near the front door heard me and asked if he could help. I asked if he had an extra bag and he brought me one. I was very grateful.

I had received as a gift from the hotel, at the my stay in Turin, a small jar of tomato sauce. Not just plain tomato sauce – the good stuff. I packed it away and tonight was the night that I’ll use it. I bought fresh spinach tortellini and the sauce will go with this pasta. And it did! I’ll make a full dinner tomorrow night using the chicken that I bought. The two full bags of groceries were about $50, which I thought was a great price.

I found that by using my Irish phone as a WiFi hotspot to my laptop that I could now watch the remaining episodes of Merlin. Though I discovered that I can now watch past episodes of the Twilight Zone, but I decided to watch Merlin instead.

Found out late last night that my credit cards and a Medicare form that I needed to sign were on their way to Cyprus and should arrive on the 10th. I’ll arrive on the 12th and hope they will we waiting for me when I arrive. I’ll also receive my permanent passport in Larnaca, Cyprus.

Not sure what I’ll do tomorrow. I’m still looking for a tour that would take me up to the Dolomites so will probably work on that, as well as doing a load of wash. The weather isn’t expected to be too good in the morning but the next two days are going to be sunny. One more Airbnb stay in Innsbruck, then an overnight Hilton stay in Munich and then I’ll be on Cyprus for at least two weeks.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

DoubleTree by Hilton (Brescia, Italy)

First of all, I don’t purposely get the date or location wrong on the daily blog just to see if anyone notices. I’ve made this error a few times and, thankfully, someone corrects me. Though it is nice to hear from people who read my blog. Feel free to write if you have a question or comment.

Getting back to today . . . My breakfast was delivered on time and I’m enjoying having breakfast in my room, though I’m not going to make this a habit. I’m only doing it because it was offered. My orange juice was missing though, but I’ll overlook the omission.

I left the hotel for the train station to visit Verona today. At the train station, in addition to purchasing the ticket for today’s train, I purchased my ticket for tomorrow’s Trento journey. The total for both tickets were around 50 Euro.

It took about 40 minutes or so to get to Verona. The weather was very nice so I walked to the old town (Citta Antica), which was a 20 minute walk from the station. As I got closer to that part of the city the number of people greatly increased. It was Sunday and most people were out with friends and family walking around the large square next to the ancient arena that was built by Romans in the first century. The arena is still used for events.

My walking goal was to visit Juliet’s house (of Romeo and Juliet). Of course the characters were fictional and it is said that this 14th century house, with its balcony, inspired Shakespeare to write the play. To get to the balcony from the large town square (not sure if this open area has a name) I walked up a very busy street. This street seemed to be the place to be seen and high-end shops lined the street for a good 500 meters.

Juliet’s balcony was easy to find after that. I could see that people could go up and stand on the balcony while someone took their picture. (I wasn’t interested.) I took a couple of pictures and left.

I started to walk back to the train station via another route that took me to the Adige River that runs through Verona. The Adige is the second longest river in Italy and flows from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea.

Walking back to the station I took, as much as possible, the back streets rather than where the crowds were. Again, almost all of the buildings in this district were well-maintained and was fun to look up and down the side streets. I came upon an archaeological dig and it appears it was from Roman times and it was fenced off and nice to look at. I tried to look for a sign that told about the site but didn’t see one.

When I arrived at the train station I saw that I had walked nearly 12,000 steps. I bought a sandwich at the station to eat on the train since I hadn’t eaten since 7:30 this morning.

By the time I returned to Brescia it was dark but I made it back to the hotel just fine. I was so very tired and took a good solid nap before thinking about having anything to eat. Eventually I made a couple of small sandwiches using the leftover prosciutto and cheese. I tried finding something to watch but couldn’t find anything interesting that I’d want to watch as a series.

Tomorrow I leave to Trento where I’ll stay four nights. It is near the Dolomites which is why I’m staying there. I’m still trying to find a tour or driver that will take me around the Dolomites. I’m leaving in the early afternoon so I’ll have time to rest before hopping on the train.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

DoubleTree by Hilton (Brescia, Italy)

Yesterday I received a phone call from the hotel’s front desk to let me know that I will have my breakfast delivered to my room today and on Sunday. They didn’t say why and I didn’t ask. I was to fill out the breakfast menu card in my room and put it on the outside of my door by 3:00 a.m., which I did. Breakfast was delivered to me at 7:30 this morning. Nice. Then I took my morning nap.

When I woke up I saw that it was overcast outside and delayed leaving the hotel until early afternoon. Not much fun to walk around on a cold and overcast day. It was about 2:00 when I left and decided to find a McDonald’s. This excursion would give me a reason to explore another part of Brescia.

I took the Metro to the train station and used Google to locate the nearest McDonald’s, which was a 15 minute walk away, so off I went. Google said to walk down this one street then up another. I was in a remote part of the city and there were a few businesses here, and for the most part it was deserted. I kept asking myself, why would there be a McDonald’s located out here. I kept walking until I came upon a fairly large mall.

I found the McDonald’s in the mall and placed my order via an automated kiosk, requesting a takeaway order that I took outside to eat. It was pleasant enough to eat outside. Cool and no rain. I used Google to find another way back to the train station and followed that route back. I found myself back at the train station within 5 minutes. Not sure why Google sent me on a route that was way out of the way when I could have taken a more direct route. I guess Google wanted me to see a part of the city that I wouldn’t normally see.

On the way back to the hotel from the Metro station I stopped by a store to pick up more of their pre-sliced prosciutto and cheese packages and rolls to have a sandwich or two in my room later. I bought mayonnaise yesterday. This would be my dinner for tonight. I tried to take a nap when I returned back to my room, but couldn’t sleep so I got up and wrote my travel blog for yesterday.

Received a message from my friend in Portland who is collecting my mail to say that my Bank of America card arrived in the mail. Great! Now I can have my debit and credit cards sent to me along with a form I need to fill out for Medicare. They will be sent to Cyprus and hopefully show up before I get there. They will be sent to my Airbnb host who lives with his parents in the flat above mine. His father has a dental practice in the building where the flats are located and his mother works in the office there, so I trust my package will be in good hands should it arrive before I do.

I watched a little TV before I was tired and went to bed. Tomorrow I’ll visit Verona and it looks like the weather will be better than today. Since Verona is halfway between here and Trento, my next stop, I can easily visit Verona again if there is more to see. I’ll look forward to my breakfast to arrive again at 7:30 a.m.

Friday, 31 January 2020

DoubleTree by Hilton (Brescia, Italy)

Slept very well last night but managed to go down for breakfast this morning by 8:00. The breakfast selection was about the same as what I found in Turin but it filled me up and I was happy.

I decided since it was a nice day today that I’d stay in Brescia and walk around the old part of the city. Brescia isn’t as big as Turin but is about the same age.

After breakfast and a nap I left to take the Metro down to the train station and from there will walk to the old town. This will give me a chance to see to see a part of the city and also the historical buildings.

I first walked around the Piazza della Vittoria then the nearby Piazza ella Loggia. Like Turin they have kept up the older buildings very well. I marvel at the artisanship that was employed to create the facades of these buildings.

From the Piazzas I walked up to the Brescia Castle. I didn’t realize how much of a climb it was. So many steps, but I took my time and rested every so often and admired the views on the way up. At least the weather is cool and not hot.

When I reached the castle I walked up to the large park just below the castle. From the park you get a view of the city so I took a couple of videos from two different spots because I couldn’t get it all in from just the one. At least there was one working restroom at the castle. Not many public restrooms can be found in Italian cities from what I’ve discovered. The one restroom at the visitor center was out of order but the other one was working. Only cost .10 Euro.

I wasn’t interested in going through the castle. I knew it was going to take an hour to get back to the hotel and by that time it would be nearly 5:00. I even took a quicker way down to the nearest Metro station, though it was slow going because the pathways were paved with medium-sized rock that was uneven and difficult, at least for me, to walk on. But I made it to the Metro station eventually.

After a nap a decided to try to walk to a nearby (sort of) Burger King. There aren’t many restaurants in the area. Google said it was .7 miles away and was surprised that after walking around this afternoon I still have good energy to make it to Burger King. Well, I never made it there because I started getting lost. There is a huge hospital between me and the Burger King and I couldn’t get around it so I turned around and went back to the hotel.

Earlier I picked up some food items from a nearby store so I didn’t go to bed hungry. A person at the hotel’s front desk gave me better instructions to get to Burger King. I could eat in the hotel restaurant but there isn’t much on the menu that I’m interested in eating. I had risotto the first night I was here, but not interested in having it again.

I watched the last episode of The Expanse and now have to wait until the next season to start, which will be in about a year. I’ll go back and finish watching Flash then find something else to watch on Netflix or Amazon. I can only watch a couple of hours a night then I’m ready for sleep.

Tomorrow clouds are expected and I’ll use the time to take care of more planning and prepare for visiting Verona on Sunday. I’ll probably walk around some tomorrow as well. Today I got in over 15,000 steps!

Thursday, 30 January 2020

DoubleTree by Hilton (Turin, Italy)

Plenty of time to get ready this morning since my train to Brescia doesn’t leave until 12:50. I even had time for a good nap after breakfast. When I checked out I discovered that my calls to the U.S., using the hotel phone, were free of charge. I didn’t ask why and just thanked them for not charging me. Before I went down to check out I made sure to give the hotel a great view on TripAdvisor.

I had a good chat with the taxi driver who drove me to the train station. I mentioned that I stay in Edinburgh each year and he said it was one of his favorite places to visit. He liked the whiskey there, the people and said it was very beautiful. I agreed with him on everything but the whiskey.

I found myself being very conscience about making sure I was on the right train and not sure why. I kept double checking the train and the time. Also making sure my money and passport were in a safe place. Perhaps I’m overcompensating for my loss last week. I didn’t dwell on it too much since I was distracted most of the way to Milan by a child who wouldn’t stop talking or singing. And he, his mother and grandmother were 10 rows away. Thankfully we were on a high-speed train, traveling at nearly 300 kph, so we reached Milan in a little over an hour.

When the train arrived at Milan Central I again was careful to get on the correct connecting train to Brescia. Though, I’ve not had good luck with transportation at Milan Central. I found the layout of the station confusing and difficult to find the proper train, especially getting to Milan’s Malpensa Airport. But I easily found the train to Brescia and we were on our way.

When I got off the train I must have taken a wrong turn because I found myself in Brescia station’s nearby Metro station. Once I found the train station building I then found the taxi rank outside. It was a 20 minute ride to the hotel by taxi and will try to use the Metro when I leave. I just wanted to check in to the hotel and get settled in.

The hotel is very basic, and though it is also a Hilton DoubleTree property, it wasn’t as nice as the DoubleTree in Turin. But the reception staff was very nice and I was soon in my room. I was told my room would face the main street, with assurances that the room is sound proof, but found myself facing the back of the hotel which was better.

For dinner, I went down to the restaurant’s dining room and found I was the only one there. I was going to ask that the meal be taken to my room but thought that I’d at least give the one person working there someone to wait on. It wasn’t until later that I found out that this hotel had only been open a couple of weeks and I was one of the few guests in the hotel.

I watched more of The Expanse when I returned to my room and also the next episode of Star Trek’s Picard but had to watch on my laptop again. Would be nice to watch on the big screen TV in my room, but the screen is secured to the wall and no way for me to plug in my HDMI cord.

Earlier I checked the stats on my blog site and saw that I now have 75,738 reads and 67,358 visitors, which seems about right. I have about 50 visitors a day, so 50 visitors a day x 365 days in a year x 3.5 years of writing the blog = 63,875. 1.4 million have viewed the pictures I’ve posted on Google.

Tomorrow, since it will be a nice day according to the forecast, I’ll walk around the city and visit a few of the historical sites. Looking forward to getting back to walking longer distances again.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

DoubleTree by Hilton (Turin, Italy)

Today I can pick up cash from a nearby Moneygram location, but first a good breakfast. Not the best breakfast, in terms of variety, from a Hilton property but it will do. For breakfast I had scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, a croissant and a bowl of cereal – also coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.

I set off to the first Moneygram place. Some of these are small shops and they may not be able to complete the transaction. Or they might be closed, which was the case with the first one I tried. The second one couldn’t do the transactions nor the third place but he pointed me to a Poste Italiane (Post Office) across the street.

At the post office the guy in the window first said he couldn’t do the transaction then with a little encouragement he said he could. (I gave him a please-help-me look.) He eventually was able to give me the cash. What a relief! I’m done with messing around with passports and credit cards!

I was planning to take a taxi to the Piazza Castello, where many of this historical buildings are located, but thought I’d give the bus a chance. I confirmed that the next bus would take me to a stop close by. When I got on the bus, with some change in my pocket, the driver indicated that he couldn’t take the money. It wasn’t until two young women got on at the next stop, who spoke English, and told me that I need to buy bus tickets from a Tobacco Shop (convenience store). She asked the driver about my paying him and he said that I could ride free. I thanked him in my best Italian when I got off the bus.

I enjoyed the walk to the Piazza. A beautiful day and so many older buildings and all of them in great shape. It looks like much care has been taken to preserve these buildings for future generations. The old town of Turin was vast judging from looking down each of the streets. The Madama Palace (old part) was the first building I saw then went around the corner and saw the new part, which is now a museum. Across the square was the Royal Palace. The Piazza was very large and open and a great place to people watch.

A little ways down another street was the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist where the Shroud of Turin is located. But it was closed until Friday. I suppose it would be interesting to see, but being pragmatic, I knew it was a religious relic with a questionable past like some of the items I saw in Jerusalem. The last place I wanted to see was the Mole Antonelliana, a large building with a spire that can be seen from a distance and known as the tallest museum (National Cinema Museum) in the world.

My last stop was to walk down to the Po River a short distance away. I like to visit a city’s main river and rarely disappointed when I do. I took a video of the river going under one of the bridges. I was a nice place to end my day of touring.

My feet were getting tired since I hadn’t been walking as much as usual and decided to take a taxi back to the hotel. It was turning out to be a nice day and I decided to check out a large market (Eataly) that I’ve seen from my hotel room.

Eataly was a wonderful place to shop and would love to have a place like this in Portland. Perhaps Whole Foods would come close but this place had everything an Italian would need to make a great meal. I walked out with a couple of chocolate chip cookies. I was hungry since I hadn’t had lunch.

Then walked to a nearby McDonald’s to get something in my stomach other than a couple of cookies. The McDonald’s was located in the very large shopping mall. You would know from the outside that a mall of this size was in there but here it was. I just went in, bought a Big Mac and left.

After a nap and writing my travel blog post I went down for dinner. I ordered a starter salad and bowl of their vegetable soup. As a treat my server brought me something for me to try. It was a bowl and inside was a small octopus laying on top of beet mash. I thanked the server but declined her offer.

I checked how much I walked today and found that I had walked nearly 15,000 steps, or around five miles. After dinner and watching an episode of The Expanse I was ready for bed.

Tomorrow I leave for Brescia and will stay there four nights. I plan to visit Verona, an hour away by train, for two days.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

DoubleTree by Hilton (Turin, Italy)

Goal for today was to wrap up loose ends with finances. But first, a Hilton breakfast. I slept very well last night and probably slept for over 10 hours. Must have been tired from all of the travel from yesterday. When I returned to my room after breakfast I started in on my do-to list.

I was able to phone the U.S. from my room which was very helpful. I confirmed that Bank of America didn’t need anything more from me, activated my replacement debit card, send myself a Moneygram that I’ll pick up tomorrow. Also reset my password for my Vodafone account. I asked the hotel’s front desk to verify that my Google Pay works, and it does. I also transferred my funds from my Chase Bank to my Credit Union and will close out the Chase accounts in the next few days – I’m done with them.

After a nap and writing my travel blog it was time for dinner. I ate dinner in the restaurant’s dining room and it was very good. Vegetable soup and a beef steak that was well-cooked and very tender. I returned to my room and watched an episode of The Expanse (Season 4) via Amazon. I barely made it through the episode and I was tired.

Tomorrow I’ll pick up my money and be a tourist for the day. Looking forward to exploring Turin (or Torino as it is called locally). I only have one day to look around and then I’m traveling by train to my next stop (Brescia and Verona).

Monday, 27 January 2020

23 Rue Etienne Richerand (Lyon, France)

The last couple of days I’ve been resolving the last bits and pieces of my “adventure”. That is what I’m calling this experience. I had recalled thinking a few days ago what it would be like if I lost my wallet and passport. Well, guess I’m finding out.

As it turned out my Airbnb host declined to give me cash even though I put money into his account. Thankfully, after visiting different countries I have been keeping their currency and I managed to collect over 200 Euros. Now, to find a place to exchange this money into Euros.

The only place open on Sunday was out at the airport, so I got to see the Lyon airport. Thanks to very helpful people at the station (some good advice and some not-so-good) I found the shuttle train to the airport but I had to pay in cash, which I’m trying to hang on to. The people at the airport money exchange were helpful as well and took pity on me and didn’t charge me a commission. I ended up with 250 Euros after the exchange.

Another glitch was when I used my newly activated Visa to buy my flight to Turin I was required to call the bank to confirm the transaction. While talking with their security I ran out of minutes on my phone and was disconnected. In the process they put a hold on my account. Back to square one. I now had cash but I couldn’t charge anything.

On Sunday, with help from friends in the U.S., I was able to unblock the card but it now didn’t work with Google Pay, a situation that I’m still working on. It worked fine on Friday.

Monday was going to be a major travel day and the day when I’ll get a temporary passport. I was at the station early on Monday and caught the high-speed train to Marseilles but it was late getting in the station so was late for my appointment, which was okay.

The people at the U.S. Consulate were very helpful and after 90 minutes I had my temporary passport. I’ll get my permanent passport when I arrive in Larnaca, Cyprus.

I took the Metro to the train station where I caught a train out to the airport (thanks to helpful people at the station) then took a shuttle from the station to the Marseilles airport. Not a huge airport, but found it difficult to find out where to check in with Air France. Limited signs and finally found where to check in. It was located in terminal 1B (and you would think a separate building would have its own number) then up a ramp, then in the corner were the check-in counters. From there it was easy.

My flight took me first to Paris. I should probably mention that I choose to go by air rather than train because to get to Turin, I would need to take the train back to Lyon then get on a bus to Turin. Between all of the connections, due to when I was traveling, it would have taken 5 – 6 hours. Flying to Paris then to Turin (or Torino) was easier.

When I landed in Paris (CDG) it took time to find the terminal where my plane was to depart. It looked like this part of the airport was being redesigned and departure gates were being moved. There were plenty of helpful people pointing where to go then someone else would correct them. For instance, I went down one escalator that pointed to gate 2F then another sign when I reached the bottom that said I needed to go up to the level I was just on. Then I found that I was to depart via gate 2G. (The automated reader board was wrong.) Eventually I found 2G and waited for my flight.

The flight to Turin was easy and getting through the airport went well too. I had enough money, thankfully, to take the taxi (30 minute ride) into the city. My last concern is that the credit card on file with the hotel was one that was stolen and generally the hotel wants to either run a credit card when you arrive to put a deposit on the room. It was 10:00 by the time I arrived at the hotel.

The day ended on a very positive note. The staff at the reception desk couldn’t have been more helpful and they didn’t require that I give them a credit card. They were okay with the newly activated card that was now in my profile. My room was upgraded and have now have a nice big room to enjoy while I’m here. Tomorrow, hopefully, my debit card will have arrived and I can activate it to use from now one. I’ll sleep with happy thoughts.

Friday, 24 January 2020

23 Rue Etienne Richerand (Lyon, France)

After getting ready this morning I left just after lunch and walked to the Part Dieu Train Station which is about a 10 minute walk. I had found on Google that I could take a train to the Confluence area but a helper at the train office said I could take a tram which would be cheaper so I decided to give that a try.

I sometimes avoid taking a tram or streetcar because, unless I have specific instructions and cash, I can run into problems, which I did today. A couple of women tried to help but my credit cards didn’t work and I didn’t have any coins.

A young woman who was helping me gave me a ticket and then escorted me on the next train, which I thought was nice. After she walked away I checked my pocket and my passport, credit cards and cash were gone. An empty pocket. The doors closed and I had to wait until the next stop to walk back to the station. I had hoped that maybe she threw away the passport in a trash can so I checked of few of those with no luck then tried to find the nearest U.S. Embassy to get a new passport. To make a long story short, the nearest Embassy that could do that was in Marseilles, not Lyon.

On my way walking back to the flat I called my friend in Portland who collects my mail to see if my extra credit card there could be activated so I have some way to make charges. This is where having Google Pay comes in handy, not need to a physical credit card.

When I got back to the flat I eventually got the credit cards taken care of and an appointment with the Embassy in Marseilles on Monday. Though I need to call Bank of American tomorrow. Also got my newly activated credit card linked to accounts that need a credit card. Then I drank a couple of beers. Tomorrow my Airbnb host will bring me some cash. Via Airbnb I put money on my account. I’ll need the money to pay for the new passport.

Considering how long I’ve been traveling I’ve had very few issues. Though leaving my carry on bag on a train in Frankfurt was not pleasant. So I have to be thankful that I’m still is good shape and my schedule won’t be impacted for the next could of weeks. I’ll get everything mailed to me in Cyprus since I’ll be there for two weeks.

The good thing is that I was able to watch the new Star Trek series, Picard. Really enjoyed the new series but will have to wait a week to see the next episode. Tomorrow I’ll hang around the flat to meet my Airbnb host who will give me some cash.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

23 Rue Etienne Richerand (Lyon, France)

The bed here is very comfortable and I’ve enjoyed sleeping longer than planned. I’ve delayed visiting Chambery and Albertville in hopes the weather will yield to sunshine, but I don’t see it in the forecast. (More time to sleep.)

Today I found a Monoprix store in the Part Dieu shopping complex that had more variety than the nearby Lidl store. I looked for the big Carrefour store within the shopping mall but no luck. I’ve shopped in Monoprix stores before and know that I’d find good quality at a good price. (“Part Dieu” is the name of this site, dating from the middle ages, and means “Property of God”.)

I did my first load of dishes in the dishwasher, which was an experience. All of the instructions on the dishwasher were in French, though I did find the setting for “Eco” and pressed a few buttons until I heard the washer start. I hope I remember what I did next time I wash dishes.

Tomorrow I’ll visit the new developments in the Confluence area of the city. Where the Rhône and Saône meet and the largest urban renewal development is underway. There are nearby older buildings too that I can visit.