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.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

23 Rue Etienne Richerand (Lyon, France)

Today I’m visiting Grenoble, another former site of the Winter Olympics. My goal is to see how many of the former sites I can visit while in the Alps. I’ll arrive early afternoon and will have a few hours there before returning to Lyon.

Was out the door at around noon and on my way to the station where I purchased my tickets from a ticket machine. The station is only a 10 minutes walk. Trains to Grenoble are frequent and I had just enough time to find the platform where my train will depart.

The ride to Grenoble was very smooth and enjoyed looking out at the countryside, mostly of farm lands and small villages. Nice that the weather is mild and lightly overcast with some sun breaks here and there.

Once I arrived in Grenoble I walked to the cable car station where I would ride these “bubble” cars up to the Bastille that overlooks the city. When I arrived at the station I discovered that the operation is shut down from 1:30 – 4:30 each day. Oh well, more time to walk around the old town and along the river.

The Isère River runs through Grenoble and there are walkways on both sides where you can admire the homes and businesses that line the streets. Each home is painted a different pastel color so it makes for an attractive picture.

I visited a couple of churches and the oldest of the two was from the 16th century. Many parks and buildings that look like they were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. In any case I enjoyed my walk very much and thankful it wasn’t cold and rainy – though a bit more sunshine would have been nice.

After a few hours I boarded the train for a return trip to Lyon. Both coming and going I wasn’t asked to show my ticket. Though I would never think about boarding a train without buying a ticket. The train only had a few passengers. In fact when I came from Geneva yesterday I was the only person in my part of the train.

After my nap I went again to the nearby Lidl store for a couple of items. I would really would have like to find either broccoli or spinach but they didn’t have any. I did buy spinach yesterday but it hadn’t been trimmed or cleaned. This is a discount store so it doesn’t carry all items. I’ll need to find a more complete store tomorrow.

Alas, no Merlin while I’m in France. Netflix here doesn’t carry the series. But they do have the Flash so I’ll have something to watch. Just before I went to bed I heard from my niece that my Christmas check to her arrived yesterday. This is the one I mailed from London just after Christmas. Of course the day after I issued a stop payment on the check the check arrived in her mailbox.

Tomorrow I’ll rest up and my plan is to write this blog post, find a more complete grocery store and continue travel planning.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

33 Avenue du Casino (Montreux, Switzerland)

On Saturday the 18th I didn’t do much, just went for a walk by the lake then picked up groceries from the store before returning to the flat. I really enjoyed just the view of the lake and people watching. A relaxing day.

On Sunday the 19th I decided to take the funicular up to a point in the hills behind Montreux. It was a fairly nice day and enjoyed my walk to the station. It wasn’t crowded at all in the car that took us up the steep hill to the first station. From there I took the alpine train to Caux which was further up the hill. I didn’t prepare for the cold but was able to take a few pictures before meeting the train (full of skiers returning from a day on the slopes) that took me back to the funicular station. When I got back to Montreux I called for an Uber to take me to where I’m staying because it was getting dark and very cold. Good thing I went grocery shopping on Saturday because all the food stores are closed on Sunday in Montreux.

On Monday the 20th I took the train to Chamonix, a village at the base of Mont Blanc. The journey involved several change of trains but all went very well and got to Chamonix in a couple of hours. At the travel office I found out how to get to the cable car that would take me to the observation station high on the mountain. While on the cable car I met several travelers from Washington D.C., Chicago, and Montana. The view up there was amazing. Certainly a top-of-the-world experience and the weather was perfect, except it was very cold. So cold that my feet were getting numb and I bought a pair of thicker socks at the gift shop to wear. It was -18C outside so no wonder I was cold. But I took many pictures and a few videos before returning to Chamonix. After a lunch in town I took the return journey back to Montreux.

Today I was up fairly early to clean the flat and pack for my trip to Lyon, France. Was a bit rushed but kept in mind the phrase, “This, or something better.” I was concerned about making the train connection in Geneva, but it all worked out and I was in Lyon at half past 3:00. The flat where I am staying had special instructions to enter but I figured everything out and was able to gain entrance to the flat. Of course, no instructions at all and I needed to message the Airbnb host or just figure out everything on my own. Was surprised that this host was certified as a Super Host. No view from this place, but the price is right and it is located near the train station. Tomorrow I’ll visit Grenoble.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Chalet Rofel (Zermatt, Switzerland)

Time again to say goodbye to Zermatt and the Matterhorn. Hope to return for another visit later this year or in the years ahead. Though I didn’t find the winter weather I was hoping to experience with snow, the days of sunshine were very much appreciated as well as the direct view of the Matterhorn.

Was packed and almost ready to leave when the taxi driver arrived 15 minutes early. I still needed to take the garbage and recyclables out to the bins down the road. The taxi driver said we could drop them off on our way out, so I went back inside and zipped up my suitcase and checked to make sure I didn’t leave anything.

I was early to the hauptbahnhof (main train station), which was fine. It gave me time to buy a bottle of water and watch the activity in the square before boarding. This being Switzerland, our train departed on time.

A little sad as we slowly began our descent to Visp where I’ll catch the train to Montreux. Little by little the snow packed hills gave way to bare rocks, green fields and small hamlets. I hadn’t noticed before how many of the old, windowless, dark brown homes and barns there were still standing. Though many were not in very good shape.

This time I wasn’t in a rush to catch the connecting train at Visp which wasn’t due for almost 10 minutes. As I stepped onto the train I asked if this was the train to Montreux and was assured that it was. It never hurts to double check.

As we got closer to Montreux the skies became overcast and there was a light rain as we entered the station. Snow was originally forecasted for the area but it wasn’t quite cold enough today.

I had time for a quick bite to eat before contacting Edgar, from the property management company, who would meet me at the entrance to the building where the flat was located. He said I could walk there but it was raining and was a good 10 minute walk – with a suitcase, taking a taxi would be easier. He suggested an Uber which was a little more cost effective.

Edgar, who I found out later was from Estonia and spoke fairly good English, showed me how to enter the building and the features of the flat. I could see that he had a good sense of humor so I said that I was glad to get in early because I had invited 40 people for party later in the evening. The look on his face! This was just after he showed me written instructions requesting that I keep noise to a minimum.

The flat has two bedrooms, which is nice because it adds more elbow room for me. The nicest feature is the view. The flat is on the 17th floor with a direct view over Lake Geneva. Think this will be a good transition from having a view of the Matterhorn.

It wasn’t too long after he left that I took my afternoon nap. When I woke I left for the store to pick up food for this evening and tomorrow morning. The store is close to the flat and I found most everything I needed, though I didn’t take good inventory of what there was available in the flat (only salt and pepper was found) and forgot to buy olive oil or butter. I had read in the Airbnb listing that oil was to be provided but when I was putting away the groceries I saw that none was available.

Since I didn’t have any oil, I lightly browned chicken in the non-stick pan then placed the meat in a sauce pan filled with Bolognese, which I was going to use for ravioli, to finish cooking. I also fixed brussel sprouts and seasoned with mayonnaise. For a treat I bought a load of challah and had a couple of slices with the meal.

While fixing dinner I was researching how I was going to travel from Innsbruck to Munich then catch a flight to Larnaca in one day. I wasn’t having much luck. After dinner I determined that it would be best to first travel to Munich, stay overnight at a Hilton, then take a flight the next day to Larnaca. This means that I’ll have to ask my Airbnb host in Larnaca to move my reservation a day forward.

Thankfully I had a good working relationship with Nicos my Airbnb host and he quickly made the adjustment to my reservation dates. All is well. Now I need to work on my visit to Greece and nearby countries (non EU Schengen Visa program) next. Soon after that will be my planing for France and Russia.

Finally, the Merlin story is now up to the point where Arthur pulls the sword from the stone and marries Guinevere. One more season of this series and I’ll be done.

Tomorrow I will finish getting settled in and go for a walk along the lake. Also investigate a couple of day trips while I’m here.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Chalet Rofel (Zermatt, Switzerland)

Yesterday and today I did pretty much the same thing. Walk around Zermatt, take more pictures, and plan out my travels for the next month or so. Mostly planning travel.

I held up planning travel to see what the weather is expected to do for the next couple of weeks. True, a few snow showers would be nice, but I can’t control the weather. I thought about staying a few extra days in Zermatt but thought it would be best just to move on and explore more of the Swiss, French and Italian Alps as planned.

I finally decided on where to stay in Montreux, Lyon, Turin, Verona, Trento, Innsbruck, and Cyprus. Why Cyprus again? Because it is not part of the EU Schengen Visa program. I’m on the borderline of exceeding the number of days I can stay in the Schengen countries. Plus, I’ll use Cyprus as a place to relax for a couple of weeks before ramping up my travel plans.

I’ll miss looking out the window and seeing the Matterhorn a short distance away. The pictures I posted on Instagram and Facebook really resonated with friends and family. Who knows, before I return to the U.S. I might make another trip up here. There is a reason why the Matterhorn is pictured on this travel blog – it was one of my inspirations for my 4-year travel adventure. I’d never been here, but here I am.

Tomorrow I will travel to Montreux and stay a few days and visit a couple of the resorts on Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps. And my inspiration for seeing the other parts of the Alps as well. My Airbnb host has arranged for a taxi to pick me up tomorrow since there is no way I’m going to roll my suitcase to the station. I’m preparing for a very busy month of travel coming up.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Chalet Rofel (Zermatt, Switzerland)

This morning I made my version of a breakfast sandwich – Zermatt style. Not having a toaster I toasted two lightly buttered pieces of bread in a frying pan, then warmed up the thinly slicked ham in the same pan. I then fried two eggs (really only needed one) and broke the yokes. Put it all together and enjoyed a tasty and filling breakfast.

My plan today is to take the Gornergrat Railway (cog wheel train) up to the Gornergrat (3,100 meters). I’ve been there twice before and the views are amazing – once in the summer (2016) and once in the winter (2017). The ride takes a little over 30 minutes to make the climb up the hill.

The trains run fairly often and when I arrived at the station I bought my ticket just a few minutes before the next train was scheduled to leave the station. The train was a little over half full and many of those on the train were planning to ski or snowboard.

The view during the ride up is spectacular. Something new to see around every corner. Took a couple of nice pictures of Zermatt along the way that I’ll post later. As we started our climb the snow kept getting deeper. Difficult to tell how deep but would imagine at least three feet, if not more once we reached the last station.

We arrived at the Gornergrat station and we all got out. It took a few moments to catch my breath. After all we were at an elevation of over 10,000 feet so the air is much thinner up here. I looked around and took a few pictures and a video before I walked up to the building that has the hotel and restaurant.

Not too cold outside, very sunny and no wind. Perfect weather for eating on the patio like I did before. Though this time I’m not feeding the crows. You feed one and their friends want to get in on the feast. I ate my meal and people watched. A very diverse group sitting around me, though they had one thing in common: they didn’t look like they were living from one paycheck to the next.

After lunch I walked around and took more pictures. Walking on the snow (and ice) was a bit tricky even with my new boots but I didn’t fall. It would have been better if there had been a recent snowfall to provide better traction, but I enjoyed being in the snow regardless.

I honestly have to say that the view from this location is the very best that I’ve ever experienced. And I’m not much of a seeker of great views. I’m usually not too impressed when I come across a view that most people like. Perhaps because I grew up in a scenic area, our home facing Mt. Adams and we often stayed overnight at Cloud Cap Inn on Mt. Hood – so perhaps I’ve been spoiled. But the view from up here – breathtaking, and not because of the altitude.

Because of the elevation, the sun starts to approach the horizon, because of the mountains, starting around 3:30 and I knew it was time to take the next train back into Zermatt. I know this will not be my last trip up here – just don’t know when I’ll return.

I walked from the station up to the chalet. The last third of the walk is a bit of a climb, but not too bad. I rested several times. Zermatt is over 5,000 feet so there is that as well.

Took a nap when I returned then wrote my blog, made dinner and watched a few more episodes of Merlin. I also posted my pictures that I took today to Instagram and Facebook. Think I might know of some friends, from their reactions, who would now like to visit Zermatt.

Tomorrow I plan to walk around Zermatt. Was also thinking that I should book a place to stay in Montreux. Friday will be here soon, but I know the right place will be waiting for me.