The Swiss Alpine Route to Verona: Solo Interrail Part 5

New to my Solo Interrail series? Start here

I’m going to pick up where I left off last time, after I had just made it back to Zurich station and was now feeling like I was back in civilization having just spent the morning lost in the alps.  I sat down over a coffee and wrote postcards to my Grandma and Aunt.  This was 2008, a year after the EU smoking ban, which Switzerland was exempt from, so smoking indoors was a bit of a novelty and I did make the most of it (I don’t smoke now so I think I would hate to return to any country without an indoor ban on smoking).  I asked two nice backbackers to take my photo with one of my disposable cameras.

Zurich station Switzerland
Me in a coffee shop in Zurich Station, Switzerland holding a postcard of Switzerland, having just had a mini adventure in the Alps. My backpack is on the left and my handbag is on the right. In front of me were a well-earned coffee and a book by Anne Mustoe, as well as another postcard. I remember strategically moving the ashtray out of the shot because I didn’t want to get into trouble for smoking.

From my travel journal:

“Next, I went to the station newsagent and negotiated stamps in German (all credit went to the pan-European phrasebook I’d packed).  Next I searched for a post-box.
“Excuse me?” I flagged down a passing man.
“Hey there!”  The friendly American accent warmed my soul.
“I don’t suppose you’ve seen the nearest post box, have you?”
“Sure!  It’s just out there, on the left.  It’s yellow.”  He said.
“Thank you very VERY much.”  I replied.
“No problem.” He said.
I followed the directions and found the post box just outside the station, then posted my post cards and hoped that was actually a post box (that, or I’d just put them in a used ticket disposal box, but I hoped not because they were nice postcards).

Then I got the 9:00am train to Milan, which terminated at Venice.  Depending on what time it gets in, I may just stay on the train rather than aiming for Verona.  However, I would prefer to stay in Verona as from there it would be easier to get back to Calais.
What followed was a wonderful train ride through the Swiss alps.

Swiss alps
The Swiss Alps, taken through the window of a train at high speed, using a disposable camera. Under the circumstances I’m pleased with how these pics came out.
The Swiss Alps
The Swiss Alps, taken through the window of a train at high speed, using a disposable camera. Under the circumstances I’m pleased with how these pics came out.
The Swiss alps lake
A giant lake in the Swiss Alps, taken through the window of a train at high speed, using a disposable camera. Under the circumstances I’m pleased with how these pics came out.

The scenery is beautiful, especially around Zug station – if I ever get a chance to go to Switzerland again, Zug is the place to go!  Unfortunately, it also means I have already began using up my 3rd disposable camera – I’ll have to get another couple in Italy.  The scenery of grassy fells, snowy mountains and powder-sprinkled pine trees is absolutely breathtaking.  It’s much nicer to see the Alps from the ground than in an aeroplane!  I’m glad not to have tried travelling onwards in the dark otherwise I would have missed this, which would have been unforgivable.

…I think I’ve just done my bit to ensure the continental opinion of English eccentricity; I took a photo of my compartment (because I’ve never been on a train with compartments before, this is like being on the Hogwarts Goddamn Express), but I waited until the other occupants had moved because it’s perhaps a bit over-zealous even for a tourist.

(a little bit later) As we emerge from the Alps, the architectural style has become markedly Italian, with the arched windows and straight-pitched, less high roofs.  We are still in Switzerland, but signs for “ristorante touristes” are at the side of the road which runs parallel with the train track.  There is also significantly less snow, but the sky is still that clear, brilliant blue, and the sun feels warm now.  I feel less close to the sky again – being on the German side of Switzerland was like standing on a very high plateau, and it’s nice, but I’m glad to be at my normal altitude again.  Hopefully it will be sunny in Verona and even more I hope that the tourist office is open so I can find accommodation between now and Tuesday (the Easter weekend is now upon us).”

Changing trains in Milan, I was profoundly disappointed.  It was standard tall buildings type of architecture, nothing particularly chic or attractive about the place, it could have been absolutely anywhere.  I decided to continue onwards.  The next train was, now that I was in Italy, run by Trenitalia.  It had dents all over the outside of the carriages and inside, there was no air conditioning, people were just crammed on top of each other.  Opposite me, a woman sat down with a chicken in a cage.  An actual chicken.  It was squawking up a fuss and flapping its feathers everywhere, and she insisted, on this full-to-bursting train, that the chicken needed its own seat, even when a man tried to sit down.  This tiny old woman clung to the chicken cage with a death grip and started shouting at him until he left the carriage.  I was too timid to get a photo of the ridiculous chicken.

Later that evening, I disembarked at Verona train station and booked 3 nights in a hotel (Novo Hotel Rossi) in Verona, where I decided to remain for the rest of the Easter weekend.  Annoyingly, despite it being the Easter Saturday, when everything is usually business as usual in the UK, in Verona, literally everything (apart from one Sushi restaurant) was closed and since I didn’t speak Italian (I do now, this trip is what prompted me to learn when I got back), I couldn’t understand the signs in the shop doors.

I found the aforementioned Sushi restaurant, only to discover that the staff didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Italian, so I ended up trying to order in Japanese.  Turns out, only the elderly grandmother could actually speak Japanese but she invited me to share a pot of tea with her after I’d eaten, apparently she’d never met a gaijin who could speak Japanese before.  I guess you wouldn’t, living in Verona.  I don’t speak very much though (and I sure as hell can’t read it), so she probably found my conversation lacklustre.  I’d like to learn more at some point so I can navigate Japanese cosmetics but that’s a bit off topic for a travel post!

Anyway, that was my first day in Verona, and I’d used up over half of my Interrail pass (any 5 days of travel valid for 10 days of travel and non travel), but I decided not to worry about that.

I will continue with my Solo Interrail journey here.

As a side-note, if you are wondering why my posts/response times are erratic, it’s because I’m back to work, now teaching at a facility for children who have been expelled from school, mostly young offenders, which is a very intense job, as well as being quite a drive from my house, and I’m a bit exhausted, but I am interested in everything people have to say still!!

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Wanderlust: Iceland

It’s Wanderlust Wednesday again and today I want to talk about Iceland.  Iceland is one of my dream destinations, with its dramatic volcanoes, waterfalls, amazing winter landscape and, of course, if you go at the right time of the year, the Aurora Borealis.

Here’s some pictures that really capture why Iceland floats my boat:

iceland volcano iceland hot baths iceland wanderlust1 iceland waterfall1

What would I do when I went to Iceland?

Well, you can’t always count on seeing the Aurora Borealis – some of my rellies were there for 2 weeks and never saw it at all, at the specific time of year when it should have been at its best.  For that reason, I wouldn’t go to Iceland just for that, and I wouldn’t depend on seeing the Northern Lights as a make-or-break the trip kinda thing.

First, I’d want to see the blue lagoon, a geothermal lake that’s also a pretty nifty spa resort.  Can you imagine traveling through miles of icy glaciers, then getting into a swimming costume and swimming outdoors in hot spa temperature water, surrounded by ice.  Access to the Blue Lagoon is limited by tickets, and ticket prices start at E35.  More information at http://www.bluelagoon.com/

Then, if that hadn’t blown me away (and doing these in order matters, otherwise I would never appreciate the Blue Lagoon in all its glory), I’d take a trip across to Askja.  Here’s a picture:

askja volcano lake

You can climb it.  Not only that, but once you’ve climbed inside this amazing volcanic crater, you can totally swim in that.

But if you do it first then Blue Lagoon will be a teensy bit anticlimactic.  More info on Askja.

I’d probably be fairly tired of swimming after all that (I’m not a great swimmer to start with and I’m terrified of specifically shaped swimming pools – don’t ask me why, it only makes sense to me.  Needless to say that when I was in Sindelfingen I was clinging to the side like a limpet nearly in tears).  So I’d go do some museuming after that lot, with a visit to the Culture House in Rejkjavik, where you can find The Sagas of Icelanders manuscripts alongside modern Icelandic art.  Guided tours in English are at 2pm!  Find out about opening hours and ticket prices here (it’s in Icelandic Krona so you may need a currency converter).  Other Icelandic museums worth visiting in Rejkjavik include The National Museum of Iceland (Thjodminjasafn) which covers a lot more of Iceland’s thousand-year past.  If you’re anything like me and love a good romp around the geological and non-human aspects of a place, The Natural History Museum of Iceland might be for you.  I would certainly love to go there, as its British equivalent is one of my favourite places to go in London.

After all that indoor stuff, I’d probably want to get out again, this time I’d go for some of the world-class waterfalls, a handy top 10 list of these can be found here (with stunning photographs).

To round up my visit, (if I had enough money to spare – it costs 39,000 Icelandic Krona which I just converted, is about £202 British Pounds), I’d want to top my visit off with a trip into the heart of a dormant volcano with the “Inside the Volcano” tour (it’s one of those guess the hidden meaning names, amirite??).  There’s a video and full tourist details here.  It’s not for the faint hearted/people with a fear of depths (heights?)/claustrophobic though so it’s probably not for everyone, but for me it would be a truly stunning experience to round off the rest of the trip.

That’s my take on what I’d do in Iceland if I ever get there:  What would you most like to do in Iceland?  Have you been?

Wanderlust: Hawaii

It’s Wanderlust Wednesday… time for me to go look at a place I want to visit, then write about it.

Today, I’m going to talk Hawaii.

I’ve wanted to go to Hawaii since I was a kid. I had a Hawaii Barbie, and I remember being captivated by the little “background scene” they do on the box to show you what the doll might look like if you weren’t living in a shitty concrete jungle.

Or is it asphalt?

Asphalt, concrete, none of it is Hawaii.

I have a list of foods I’d like to eat if I ever go (mostly plants, Hawaii is home to loads of rare plants), and I have a huge list of activities I’d like to do when I get there too.

Here’s some pictures of Hawaii:

Picture courtesy of Qantas airlines.
Picture courtesy of Qantas airlines.
Picture courtesy of Go Hawaii.
Picture courtesy of Go Hawaii.
Picture courtesy of Flora 2000.
Picture courtesy of Flora 2000.
Picture of Old Lahaina Luau, courtesy of Alternative Hawaii.
Picture of Old Lahaina Luau, courtesy of Alternative Hawaii.

Isn’t Hawaii an exciting place??  Apparently it was annexed by the USA in 1898, before that it was an independent island nation with its own monarchy.  Before it was called Hawaii, it used to be called the Sandwich Islands, because Cook wanted to brownnose to the Earl of Sandwich.  I prefer the name Hawaii.  I would love to visit the islands.  Here’s my rundown of the 5 things I want to do most in Hawaii:

  1. Climb Mauna Kea on The Big Island Hawai’i:  Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world from bottom to top – but most of it’s underwater, with only 4,205m (13,796 feet) of that is above sea level, so it doesn’t really rate for mountaineers.  That wouldn’t stop me trekking up it – it’s higher than Ben Nevis (which I totes need to write about now I’ve climbed it… argh I have such a long to do list).
  2. Grab a cocktail in O’ahu:  It’s the third largest island, but it’s home to two thirds of the population of Hawaii, and I’d love to sip a cocktail (virgin or otherwise) from one of those beach bars (I don’t want Tom Cruise to mix it, though I actually hear he’s quit tending bar and works as an actor now???  So I’m probably safe).
  3. Snorkeling in Maui:  The second largest island is home to all sorts of fun sporting activities.  I’ve always wanted to give snorkelling a go, and apparently Maui is a good place to do this.
  4. Surfing in Maui:  Of course, no trip to Hawaii would be complete for me unless it included some surf dudes with attitude…  wait, that was California, wasn’t it?  I still want to go surfing in Hawaii.  And that song is still pretty chillin’ all these years later:
  5. See some shell crafting in Niihau:  This island has a population of only 170 – but apparently they’re the finest shell craftspeople in the world.  I’d love to see them at work.

Have you ever been to Hawaii?  What’s it like?  Tell me all about it!