Good times in Strasbourg

I had a lovely few days in Strasbourg, with my friend Jane.

The journey there was a little fraught – although as I didn’t have any connections to make I wasn’t too anxious. We were on the last leg of the journey, about 20 minutes outside Strasbourg, when the train ground to a halt. After about 5 minutes the guard announced that we had hit a deer, and so had to wait for clearance to restart. Also, one assumes, for someone to clear up the debris. We were held up for about 30 minutes, during which time I texted Jane, to keep her up to date with what was happening. Finally we started off again, only to come to another abrupt halt about 10 minutes outside Strasbourg. This time, the guard told us with a weary sigh, there were children playing on the line, and a pram abandoned in our path. I suspect it was more likely to be yoofs dropping things onto the track from a bridge, but I don’t know for sure. That clear up took another 45 minutes or so – we arrived in Strasbourg about 90 minutes late. Jane had come from the flat to meet me, so we were able to have something to eat near the station, before taking a taxi back.

The first (but not the last!) mulled wine!

On Sunday we had planned to go to church, but ended up not going! We woke late and had a leisurely breakfast instead. Then we went to explore the Christmas markets… There were, after all, eleven to explore! Initially we were a little disappointed. They were either a bit too Chinese imported tat, or what was a small number of wooden chalets had been bigged up to be a “Christmas Market” However, as our time went by, we found ourselves being a little more forgiving; some weren’t much to write home about though. The “Off” market was supposed to be edgy and alternative, but was just a bit boring and unfestive. There were four or five containers with a couple of interesting stalls, plus some igloo type structures with some bits and bobs, but nothing terribly out there.

Still, while there were rather too many stalls selling Vin Chaud and baguettes with cheese and ham, we had a lovely time!

By sheer coincidence we were in the Place Kléber when the huge tree lit up – very festive! Especially when watched clutching a Vin Chaud!The market here was a little disappointing too – this was supposed to be the “ethical” market. The description told us that “Some one hundred support, charity and humanitarian associations invite you to come and meet them, discuss what drives them and share their solidarity actions at the Village of Sharing in Place Kléber, from 23 November to 24 December” What it doesn’t say is that these 100 or so associations were sharing approximately 10 chalets on a rolling programme, so there were only 10 different groups at any one time – most of them selling Vin Chaud! We did buy some “Humanitarian soup” (parsnip with ginger and lemongrass) which was good,and Facebook had a stand where they were showing their human face: encouraging us to make a donation to a charitable cause through FB, they were offering a free Christmas sweatshirt for every donation made. Well, as I needed a Christmas jumper for our works Christmas party, but was refusing to buy one, this seemed like an ideal opportunity! I wanted to support Phone Cedit for Refugees, but they don’t have a FB page, so instead I gave a donation to Restos du Coeur, and received a Christmas sweatshirt,a bag, a FB pin, a pair of gloves and a handwarmer!

Some of the decorations were amazing, and the stalls were beautifully decked out too

Our favourite market was in the Place Broglie, which is where we made many of our purchases. It was here we also met Denis, the treasurer of the Convocation of the Episcopal Church in Europe, who lives in Strasbourg. He had offered to take us to taste the “best gluhwein in the markets” so (naturally!) we took him up on the offer. The Vin Chaud was at the stall Chez Mathilde and was, apparently, an old family recipe. It was delicious – the spices used included cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and cardomom. Then Denis took us on a whirlwind tour of the markets (showing us one we’d missed) and ended up buying us a beer in an old fashioned beer kellar/pub type place. We let him go home after thyat (it was raining hard by then) and we wandered around the market a bit longer before heading home ourselves. My back had been playing up both Sunday and Monday,  generally being painful, but also occasionally going into spasm, so I was happy to take the tram home!

Random twinkly lights

We also did some sightseeing, but I’ll tell you aboutthat another time.

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Turin today…Holiday Day 7

We have learned something today: Mr FD doesn’t like cities in hot weather.

The forecast had been for a cooler day, so we dressed for this, but unfortunately it was 29° – which can feel even hotter in a city, with the heat radiating off the buildings. We’d had a “discussion” about whether to take a Segway tour of the city, but the final decision had been negative. So I wanted to take a free walking tour (having found the one we took in Budapest so good) Mr FD was less keen, but agreed. However, when we arrived at the meeting place, he was really desperate for a toilet (!) and couldn’t find one, so he said for me to do the tour and he’d meet me later.

So I did. I really enjoyed a two-and-a-half hour walk through Turin’s history, admiring buildings from Roman through to Baroque and even more modern…

   

Francesca, the tour guide, was very informative, and I chatted to a pleasant Englishwoman, Megan, on the walk round.

Francesca does her stuff

At the end of the tour I texted Mr FD to tell him where I was, and I sat with a citron pressé, resting my feet and enjoying the shade of the arcades. Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding, he couldn’t find me, and was getting increasingly fed up, and feeling queasy after a large custard bun consumed at breakfast time. I suspect he was dehydrated too. After a flurry of bad tempered texts we managed to meet up, and he said he wanted to go back to the B&B. So, after a bit of discussion, it was decided he’d go back, and I’d stay in Turin, then get the train to Moncalieri, and text him from the station. So that’s what we did.

I did the walking tour backwards, stopping to look at places we’d not had time to properly explore on the whistlestop tour, such as the Cathedral and the roman area. I didn’t get to see the Turin shroud, as it only gets displayed once every five years – and anyway, I’m not too interested. I don’t believe it is the Shroud of Christ, and so don’t see it as particularly worth seeing.

I had a few problems buying my rail ticket back to Moncalieri – first because my card wouldn’t work in the machine, and secondly, I ended up buying two tickets because a smelly, dirty old man insisted on “helping” me at the ticket machine that took cash, and he pressed the buttons for me so I ended up buying two tickets. Happily, they weren’t very expensive (2€30 each) so I didn’t lose too much money, but I was most unimpressed by him then asking me to give him money for helping me! I’m afraid I said some rude words. It was a bit confusing finding where I had to take the train from, but with real help from a railway employee I got there okay.

Mr FD picked me up, still not his usual cheery self, and said it wasn’t worth going back to the farm, as Nicola had had a large lunch party for an association he worked with, and there would be chaos if we met people driving down the narrow road. So we went to the historic centre of Moncaleri again. We had a rehydrating drink first (Mr FD cheered up a little), then a refreshing beer, with some snacks (Mr FD cheered up more – he hadn’t had lunch, due to feeling sick, so some grumpiness was probably attributable to hunger too), and then we went to a restaurant where I had a burger, with avocado salsa and chips, and Mr FD had a pizza. With further refreshing and rehydrating drinks, Mr FD was smiling again by the end of the evening. He did want to leave early, so we informed Nicola of that when we got back, and packed the car.

Taking Nicola up on his offer, we sat outside in the warm evening with a glass of local wine, watching the lights of Turin and its suburbs twinkling.An early-ish night, and an early get up at 6.00 am, meant we were back home by 11.45, just in time to have bacon sandwiches for lunch!

Although Mr FD didn’t enjoy the last two days much, I did, and all in all, we’d say that the Piedmont area of Italy has much to offer. I’d recommend both the places we stayed, although the second was very simple. Mind you, it was also extremely cheap – 26€ a night for us both, with 8€ for the copious breakfast. But beware the chocolate covered custard bun – it might not suit your stomach!!

When we got home I felt really relaxed and recuperated…although during the week I had walked an awful long way. My pedometer isn’t terribly accurate, but it is telling me I walked approximately 70 km during the week. Not bad for an unfitty like me!

And the next day, my mum and sister arrived!

Moving day…Holiday Day 6

Not a terribly successful day in some ways…

We decided to have a look around Miasino, the village just above the B&B, before we went and to visit the botanical garden there. After wandering around for a while, trying to find the botanical garden, we eventually discovered it was closed until the afternoon.

As we were heading for Turin, we thought it best not to wait, and set off for the big city. It only took a couple of hours to get there, so having sussed out where (we thought) the next B&B was, we headed into the suburb of Turin called Moncaliari above which the AirB&B was situated.

We found a nice little restaurant for lunch: I had home made pasta with a simple tomato sauce, and Mr FD had a meat-and-cheese platter. We arranged to meet the owner of the place at 15h, so we drove up to where we thought it was, and waited in the car. After a while a suspicious woman came out and asked what we were doing. With a mixture of French, Italian and English we worked out we were in the wrong place, despite the sat nav telling us we were in the right place. After a bit of faffing, we found the farm, and Nicola, our host. We put our stuff in the room and decided to go to Asti, the centre of sparkling wine making…

The trip wasn’t successful. Mr FD was tired and hot, and didn’t feel like looking round the city so was grumpy. After about 30 minutes we admitted defeat, called in at a supermarket to buy some wine and went back to Moncalieri. Dinner was in a sweet little restaurant with a tiny terrace, where I started with caremalised cheese

Not a good photo, but the cheese was delish!

Then we both had a sort of leek flan with a creamy sauce

and then a very enjoyable dessert, which I can’t remember, and forgot to take a photo of!

Then up the long and winding road to the farm. The family were having a birthday party, so it was a bit noisy, but we didn’t mind; it was an exceptional circumstance, so we wished Papa Buon compleanno which pleased him, and went to bed with ear plugs in!

 

Speed King!…Holiday Day 5

Thursday 6th Sept

Mr FD wanted to do another ride, over the mountains between Lake Orta and Lake Maggiore, so I said I was happy to go back to Stresa to do some shopping and look around the town a bit more. So he set off, and I followed about half an hour later. I found a parking spot and walked into town. I’d just had time to start browsing, when I got a text saying Mr FD was back at the car. WHAT?! I’d hardly got started!!!

So my shopping was curtailed very abruptly, and I went back to meet him. Just in time, as the rain swept in. We had a picnic lunch, so decided to see if the weather cleared as we drove to Mottarone – a 1491m high mountain, offering views of seven lakes. While the clouds denied us views of all seven lakes, we certainly could see four or fiv

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And on the top of the mountain was Alpyland

a kind of cross between a Big Dipper and a bob sleigh. The rider has control of the speed, as there is a lever that acts as both brake and accelerator, so you can decrease speed if you’re scared. We both went on it, but I have to admit it wasn’t my cup of tea at all! Mr FD loved it however, and had another go.

He said he went faster the second time round! Having got a taste for speed, he then decided to ride down from the top of the mountain. So he got back into his cycle gear, and off he went.

I followed in the car; I went at a speed I felt comfortable with on the mountain road, and I didn’t catch him up until we were very nearly back at the B&B. I overtook him with about a kilometre to go, and he had caught me up again before I had finished parking the car! He did an average of 37.5 km per hour! Speed King, indeed!

After showering, we headed back to the village of Orta SG again. We called in to see Dario, the owner of the B&B, in his gallery Oot and admired his work. He & MrFD talked about prog rock, a shared music passion, while I looked around the gallery. We then walked along the lakeside in the evening light, Mr FD taking lots of arty shots of boats and views.

This was my effort at an arty shot

We then headed to a rather posh hotel to have an apero on the lakeshore…

A Bellini for me, a beer for Mr FD, and some tasty snacks too.

and then went to have a lakeside meal in a very nice restaurant.

We had a shared charcuterie plate, and then I had Osso Bucco, with saffron rice, which was delicious, but very rich!

We then had a last gelato from the very good artisan gelato shop. I was persuaded to try a boule of what I think was bilberry, and the gelato man (gelatoteer?) suggested a creamy cream flavour to go with it. It was good, but maybe not my favourite. Mr FD had Cheesecake flavour.

Not my hand. Not my ice cream. Not actually my photo!

Then back to the B&B for the last time…

Trains and boats…Holiday Day 4

Wednesday 5th Sept

We set off early to pick up a train at Stresa, which would take us to Domodossola, where we would get on the Panoramic Train. This goes to Locarno in Switzerland, at the head of Lake Maggiore, from where a boat sails down the lake, back to Stresa. We had booked each part separately, being unaware that the Maggiore Express existed, which looks even nicer than the tour we did. But never mind…

Everything went swimmingly – the panoramic train was a delight, with splendid views around every corner.

I didn’t get many shots, as there were reflections from the window, and by the time I’d realised I wanted to take a picture, the view had gone…so finally I decided to just enjoy the ride and to not worry about taking photos.

Arriving in Locarno, we hurried down to the lake side to book the boat back, and then had lunch: slightly disappointing and expensive! I had “Salad Nicoise” – basically green salad with a tin of tuna tipped onto it – while Mr FD had very stodgy gnocchi with a gorgonzola sauce. We bought a nutty cinnamon swirl from a bakery for dessert and then went up the funicular to view across Locarno.

After a walk around the heights, we descended into the town again, and spent an hour sitting in the shade on the lakeside promenade, as it was very warm. People watching and dog watching passed the time nicely, and then we went to embark on the boat.

The trip down the lake took 2.5 hours, and was very pleasant, with views on every side. However, I think I may have taken this one after my enormous gin-and-tonic apero, as I haven’t lined it up very well!!

A lot of forest and not much yacht!

All aboard the Skylark!

There was a large group of English people on the boat, so we chatted to some of them, as well as just sitting and enjoying the warmth of the sun, tempered by a breeze. When we docked in Stresa, we had a little wander round, but were getting hungry, so found a restaurant for dinner. We both had a very yummy pizza, and then bought a gelato (there’s a surprise!) I had 2 boules: melon and banana which were very pleasant. A stroll along the waterfront in the balmy evening air finished the day off nicely!

 

Garden Beauty…Holiday Day 3

Tuesday 4th Sept

Mr FD wanted to do some cycling, so he set off on his bike to ride a tour of Lake Orta. I settled down in the garden to do some reading and art work. I was joined by the house dog for a while – a rather friendly golden retriever – until he realised I didn’t have any food!

halfway round…

After Mr FD returned, we went to Omegna for a panini, and then headed to VillaTaranto to tour the gardens there. They are lovely! If you like gardens I’d definitely recommend them for a visit. Although it was quite hot, there were enough shady places to linger, and drink water.

Not my picture – the flowers were starting to fade a little by now.

    

 

After an ice cream (can’t remember the flavour) in the café we drove around the lake to Stresa, where we booked train tickets for a Panoramic train the next day. Heading home, we decided to go back to the restaurant from Sunday night.

This time I chose ravioli with spinach to start, then perch from the lake. I was rather disappointed with this, and had definite food envy, as Mr FD had chosen lamb cutlets which looked lovely. Still, the cheesecake which followed was delicious!

 

Island life… Holiday Day 2

Monday 3rd September

Today dawned bright and clear, with beautiful views from the garden of the B&B across to MonteRosa, the second highest mountain in western Europe

Breakfast was filling and delicious – freshly squeezed orange juice, bread, cheese and local salami, local yoghurt and jams, with a home made cake as well, should you want it. Coffee, and a wide selection of tea as well. We were set up for the day! We decided to explore the village of Orta San Giulio, and the lake, which weren’t far away.

We parked in the car park at the top of the hill into the village, and made our way upwards to the “sacred mount” – dedicated to St Francis, this sacred mount houses many chapels showing scenes from the saint’s life. The wikipedia page gives a few more details. It was a very pleasant shady walk around, but we didn’t visit many of the chapels, as I found the scenes, with their rather dusty, lifesize figures, slightly macabre.

 

There were beautiful views across the lake and down to the island of San Guilio as well (this island features in many, many photos that I took!!)

After about an hour’s wander, we felt it was TFAB (Time for a beer) so we made our way down the cobbled streets to the waterfront piazza in the village. On the way down, we met a great deal of visitors puffing their way upwards to the mount.

“Is it much further?” they gasped.

“About 300 metres uphill,” we replied, smugly, as our parking place had meant we’d not had such a difficult walk, as we’d been about halfway up the back of the mount before we started.

On the way down we came across this rather lovely statue of St Francis (my sister said it looked like he was morris dancing!)

We found a bar right on the waterfront, and ordered a beer. This came with crisps and a plate of snacks – tiny sandwiches, sausage, cheese etc. We debated whether to eat it, not knowing whether it was free (highly unlikely) or to be paid for, but decided we would eat it as an early part of our lunch, before going on a boat to the island. On paying the bill, we found that yes, we did have to pay for it, but that it wasn’t very expensive – and it kept us going until our late lunch.

We took a boat trip out to the island, on which is a monastery and some rather expensive looking houses…

It was relatively peaceful there, despite all the tourists chattering away as they strolled round the streets. It took about 30 minutes to complete a tour of the island, and then we got the boat back to Orta St Giulio

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After a picnic lunch at the side of the lake we went for a drive around the lake, stopping to take photos, and to have our first gelato. I had lemon, but I can’t remember Mr FD’s flavour.

Happy Birthday, Mr FD

Same island, different angle!

After a rest back at the B&B, we went back into Orta SG for pizza night…

Charcuterie plate and mixed salad to start…

“Pizza Viagra” (yes, really!) for Mr FD

 A calzone for me. I was tempted to have “Pizza Aphrodisia” just to get tongues wagging, what with Mr FD’s pizza as well, but I didn’t!

They weren’t tiny pizzas either!

After this, Mr FD decided he needed another gelato, so we wandered back to the Piazza. He had a delicious lemon-and-basil flavour, and I had a yoghurt gelato, with peach and strawberry syrup running through it. Yummy!

I was very lucky here, as I left my purse on, the bench where we’d been sitting. As we walked back along the streets to the car, a young man chased after us with the purse…all money and credit cards intact. There are honest people in this world (who are also observant enough to notice who it was that had left the purse behind!). What a relief! That would have really put a dampener on the holiday!