prThe past three days have been a blend of early starts, packing, ham and cheese baguettes (not our preferred option), train travel, unpacking, ordinary hotels and extraordinary highlights.
We watched Paris slide away behind us as the 08.23 train to Zurich glided away from Gare Lyon train station. The TGV Lyria Duplex is a magnificent train: as fast as Barry Allen and as smooth as Rob Thomas & Carlos Santana. We had secured an upstairs berth of 4 seats facing each other over a small table. The train quickly reached speeds above 200km/h. I tried multiple times to get a photo of the speed display reading 300+ but was foiled many times by the changing display or a slight uphill section of track. Eventually, I managed to snap the pikkie below. Later, I was standing in the buffet car eating a ham and cheese baguette (theme alert!) and drinking an espresso when I glanced at the display to see the train travelling at 317km/h - and I'm standing up like it's the bar at the local pub!
A quick change of trains at Zurich saw us proceed to the small Swiss city of Chur. Now, to be fair to Chur, we HAD just left the middle of Paris on a busy weekend. Chur, at 3pm on Sunday, doesn't seem to have a whole lot going on. Even the cable car up to Brambrüesch was closed. So were all the restaurants and cafés. Our dining options were reduced to seedy kebab shops and the petrol station co-op store. More ham and cheese baguettes, please. Later, when about three of Chur's "many local restaurants" opened for dinner, we found a funny little pseudo-Asian restaurant where we managed to get a plate of noodles and a random assortment of condiments for a somewhat sobering price.
Our accommodation in Chur was the Hotel Schweisserhaus. In our pre-trip planning I had begun to refer to this as the Hotel Scheisenhausen, so much so that I had trouble NOT calling it that to people who may have been offended by the reference. My Mum always told me that many a truth is spoken in jest and I think on this occasion she was quite correct.
Another early start saw us trundling out of Chur on the Bernina Express. This scenic railway links Switzerland with Northern Italy by winding its way over the Alps via the Bernina Pass. Such is its significance that a section of it is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As we climbed the foothills of the Alps we were surrounded by mist and cloud and I thought our luck may have failed us in terms of seeing some of the peaks, but the further we ascended the less consistent the cloud became until eventually we were rewarded with spectacular scenery. It was a true highlight of our holiday and as we trundled into Tirano Rail Station (along the Main Street like a tram) I commented to Moggy and the girls, "Do you know what that was worth? - Every single cent we paid for it!".
From Tirano we caught a regional train to Milan, which we, sadly, credited with too little time for attention. We were on a mission to get to our hotel, eat something, grab a nana nap, and then get to a concert. Our taxi driver agreed that we had given Milan too little attention and so she took it upon herself to take us past the Duomo, the cathedral, the shopping district and the banking an d finance district - all of which was interesting, and of benefit to her taxi meter. It was done so nicely and she was so pleasant that we considered the additional €10-€15 to be a reasonable price for a speedy guided tour of the old city.
So we eventually arrived at the Assago Fawlty Towers (not its real name). The information about the hotel services and facilities was limited to a small pamphlet in three languages, and it was wrong! We had tried to arrange a restaurant booking for dinner, but the restaurant did not open until 7.30, which was too late for our concert schedule. So, relying on the pamphlet which promised room service from 5.30pm, we ordered some meals, only to be told that room service was not available until the restaurant opened. They did, however, offer us a snack. Guess what we had for dinner? Yep - ham and cheese toasted sandwiches!
In 1977 I bought a copy of Peter Gabriel's first solo album because I was completely entranced with the song "Solisbury Hill". Since 1977 I've been completely entranced by petty much all of Peter Gabriel's music and it has been a constant accompaniment for me. Thirty six years after beginning that association I saw my first Peter Gabriel concert, and I'm so pleased that Moggy and the girls were with me for it.
The show started off as a very low key, acoustic set. The house lights were up and the first few songs were simply the band on the stage reinventing some Peter Gabriel songs. The song "Family Snapshot"' for those who don't know it, is a story about an assassin, and it builds steadily in tempo and tension as the song proceeds. At one moment in the song where it starts become quite intense ("They're coming round the corner with the bikers at the front, I'm wiping the sweat from my eyes...") - in a heartbeat - the house lights dropped and a full-on light show took its place. It was a breath-taking transition to an amazing display of sound, light and technology.
Mollie and Ella were sad because they knew all the songs. I'm just happy!
Tuesday morning saw us depart Milan aboard the Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) for Rome, where we settled into our very comfortable apartment at Ottaviarno (near the Vatican Walls) and enjoyed a night out (REAL FOOD!!!) with Rob and Tom.