Trip Start May 13, 2010
Trip End Jul 05, 2010

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Flag of Switzerland  , Swiss Alps,
Saturday, June 12, 2010

June 12 - Saturday

      First of all, a few random thoughts about Greece as I prepared to leave the country.....

>  Despite the dire economic situation being reported almost daily in the media, there seems to be a LOT of construction taking place all over Greece.  It didn't seem to matter whether it was small villages or larger cities, signs of construction were quite prominent.  In many of the larger centres, large yellow "hammerhead" Cranes dotted the skyline.

>  In much of the Pelopponese and to a lesser extent on the islands that I visited, there seemed to be  LOT of homeless Cats and Dogs in various conditions (some quite dire).  The attitude towards caring for pets seems to be different in Greece than what I've observed in other parts of Europe (and indeed in North America).  In other countries, Dogs especially are always well cared for and quite frequently they accompany their owners into restaurants and stores.  It was very upsetting to see friendly animals without a home or someone to care for them.  The most poignant example of this is the Dog that came and laid under my feet when I sat down on a bench during one of our walking tours in Athens.

>  I didn't observe any of the huge riots or other civil disturbances that have been so widely reported in the the media.  Even on days when there was a demonstration, these seemed to only last a short time and were mostly peaceful.  I suspect the three fatalities in a previous disturbance were a factor in causing the situation to settle down.

I'll add to this list if I think of anything further.  Now to the next phase of my journey.....  

     The Airport Shuttle was on time, and the trip to the airport only took about 20 minutes.  The airport was just barely starting to become operational for the day.  After checking in at the Aegean Air counter and getting my boarding passes, I had to take my main Pack (checked luggage) to a separate security point after the weight was checked.  The Pack went through the scanner and the Guard "nodded" an approval.

                There were only two security lanes for passengers, and these weren't staffed at all for about 10 minutes.  Eventually, an attractive girl in uniform and wearing a 9mm sidearm appeared, and passengers were processed through the usual security procedures.  The airport in Santorini is fairly small and one of the departure gates was covered by a vending machine.  Passengers are transported from the terminal to aircraft by the same type of large “kneeling” Buses that I’ve used at other airports (there are few seats, so most passengers just stand).

                After transport to the Airbus A320-200, passengers were loaded via both front and rear stairs (which was very quick).  The interior of the plane was spotless, with “easy listening” Greek music playing on the sound system.  As everyone was seated, the smartly attired Flight Attendants passed down the aisles with candy.  One feature I found  interesting was that the pre-flight announcements were provided via the video screens.  These were mounted in the ceilings rather than the seat backs, with one monitor for about every three seats.  These were flush with the ceiling but were deployed electrically.  When the announcements were completed, the monitors flipped back up into the ceiling.

                During the flight the same video monitors showed a satellite map of the aircraft position.  However, this was a map with a difference and provided a considerably better display than I’ve seen on any North American aircraft.  The graphic display was outstanding and showed a large and clear depiction of the aircraft, the flight path and position.  The flight to Athens only took about 50 minutes.

After a short layover in Athens and another pass through security, I continued with Aegean for the flight to Milan, which was about a 2.5 hour flight.  The in-flight meal was a typical Greek breakfast with Buns, a type of Baclava, Coffee and of course Yogurt and Honey (which was supplied in a cleverly designed two-part container which made mixing very easy).  After those two flights, I’m very much impressed with Aegean Airlines - a real “class act”!

On arrival at Malpensa and after collecting my Pack from the Carousel, it didn’t take long to find the Malpensa Shuttle (just outside Exit 6).  I discovered a ticket machine on the way to the exit, so had the Eu$7.50 ticket in hand before getting to the Bus, which was a “double decker” model.  The Driver validated the ticket in a machine in the Bus. The Shuttle stopped at Terminal 2 on the way, and the trip to Milano Centrale took about an hour.

I had hoped to get the train to Lugano departing at 13:10, but unfortunately it was sold out (a situation I don’t often encounter – the fact that it was Saturday afternoon may have been a factor).  The next departure was 15:10, so I purchased a ticket (which included reservation) at one of the ticket kiosks.  I wasn’t thrilled about spending an additional two hours in the chaos of Milano Centrale, but didn’t have much choice.  Adjacent to the tracks, there were video monitors playing non-stop repeating commercials, and it became so annoying listening to these that I moved to another part of the station for a while (where I couldn’t hear them).  My active noise cancelling Headphones and IPod were also effective at blocking the annoyances. 

                The trip to Lugano only took an hour or so.  I was seated beside a couple from the U.S. that were heading to Bellagio via Como, so had a nice chat with them.  One thing I noticed on this particular trip, was that when the Italian Conductor arrived to check tickets, he was carrying a portable cellular debit / credit card terminal.  Anyone being fined for ticket infractions will have the money deducted from their account before they even get off the train!

There was some excitement during the trip.  About half way to Lugano, I noticed a young man from China walking up and down the aisles with a puzzled look on his face.  Eventually he was joined by his wife, who was also walking up and down the aisles.  At one of the stops, two Italian Police officers appeared and spoke with them.  After crossing the border into Switzerland, two Swiss officers took over and they began by checking Passports of some of the people seated in the coach (they didn’t approach me).

I wasn’t able to understand the conversation that was taking place in Italian, but the person seated behind me provided a translation.  Apparently the young man’s luggage had been “lifted” at some part during the journey, and he was trying to locate it.  I strongly suspect he won’t ever find it, but it’s possible the Police might eventually locate at least part of his belongings.  I was warned on one of my first trips to Europe to always monitor luggage carefully on Italian trains, and I’ve never forgotten that advice!

On arrival in Lugano, I took a Taxi to the Hotel.  There appeared to be a huge bicycle race taking place, as some of the streets were blocked off.  The Taxi Driver had to get Police to move one of the barricades so that he could get to the Hotel.  There were Bleachers set up along the route, and lots of spectators.  At one point I could hear the distinctive “whine” of a EuroCopter somewhere near the Hotel.

Once again I asked the Hotel for a good place to have dinner.  They suggested a restaurant called La Tinera for a good selection of local Ticinese cuisine.  Even with a map, the restaurant was a bit difficult to find in the maze of streets, alleys and Piazzas.  Fortunately I encountered a couple of Police officers on foot patrol and they took me right to the door.

The restaurant was one level down from the street (it’s located in an old wine cellar) and somewhat small but very crowded, probably as it was Saturday night.   Also, there were a lot of extra people in town for the race, and there were six Paramedics seated right across from me.   There were no open tables so I was seated beside a couple of women from the U.S. that worked for an I.T. firm and were in Switzerland on business.  I ordered a Spaghetti dish which was very good and also a reasonable portion size.  One unusual feature of this restaurant was that the wine was served in a small bowl rather than a wine glass.  Apparently that’s a “local custom”.

June 13 - Sunday

                My first task this morning is to buy tickets for the trip on the Bernina Express, which I’ll be taking on Tuesday.  As it’s a popular tourist attraction and requires reserved seats, I wanted to get that done as soon as possible.  I took the Funicular from the main part of the city up to the rail station.  The rail tickets were SF$104, which included the Bus trip from Lugano to Tirano and the compulsory reservation fees.

                On the trip to the station, I was enormously pleased to discover the location of the local Manora Restaurant (they have locations in most major cities in Switzerland).  I had dined at these in Locarno and always found the food to be excellent quality.  The restaurants are cafeteria-style, and diners just grab a tray and a plate, and then add whatever food items they want, with the cost being determined by how many items are chosen.  They have an incredible selection, everything from salads and dessert items to pasta dishes and pizza, sautéed vegetables and various types of meats.  The meats are cooked to order and the other items are all fresh, being replenished on a regular basis.  My lunch was a bit on the expensive side, as I added a small bottle (75 cl) of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as well as some dessert.

                As today is Sunday, most of the stores and other businesses are closed.  After lunch I decided to take a boat trip on Lake Lugano.  Commentary of the attractions and villages along the lake was provided in Italian, German, French and English.  I had interesting chats with several passengers from a variety of locations in Europe – Scotland, England, Poland, etc.  I was able to provide some useful information to a couple from the U.K. who are on their first visit to Switzerland.  They’ll be taking the very scenic Cento Valli railway tomorrow from Locarno to Domodossola , a trip which I’ve made a couple of times.

                I decided to try dinner at the Hotel tonight, and was interested in the reason that no alcohol is served in the restaurant.  I asked one of the staff and she indicated that the Hotel was originally operated by a religious order which banned any alcohol from the premises.  While the order no longer operates the Hotel, somehow the tradition remains?

June 14 - Monday

                After breakfast and some “housekeeping” details (laundry) I headed out for a day’s touring.  Today I decided to try one of the “tourist trains” that cover the major sites in the town centre.  They might seem a bit “tacky” but I’ve always found this type of tour provides a good overview of the layout of the city and the important sights.  They’re also a good way to rest my feet after too much walking!

                The tour lasted about 50 minutes and I decided to do a complete circuit rather than getting off at the Monte San Salvatore Funicular, which I also planned to visit that day.  The mountain provides an incredible view of Lugano, the lakes and the surrounding area.  I wanted to go back to the Hotel to get some rain gear as the weather was looking a bit “unsettled”.  That ultimately proved to be a wise decision!  I decided to walk back to the Funicular which is in Paradiso (a separate part of Lugano), as the GPS indicated the distance was only 1.6 kM.  I arrived just as one train was leaving, so had to wait 30 minutes for the next one.  I passed the time by chatting with a girl from Shanghai who is studying “entrepreneurship” at a University in Ontario (she was waiting for her friend to come down from the mountain).

                The Monte San Salvatore Funicular is built in two parts.  The first stretch is a fairly gradual climb, and stops at a mid-point station.  The second car has a much steeper climb, but from there it’s only a few minutes to the top.  Just as I exited the Funicular station at the top, it started raining heavily, which quickly progressed to thunder and lightning!  There was a restaurant at the top with an outdoor patio with large umbrellas, so I headed there first for some shelter.  After a somewhat expensive coffee and Apple Strudel, the rain didn’t seem to be lessening at all.   With lightning in the vicinity, I wasn’t sure that sitting on a mountaintop under an umbrella with a metal frame was a really good idea.

                At the bottom and during the trip on the Funicular, I had been speaking with a young couple from Belgium, and they were also taking shelter on the patio.  We all decided that it would probably be a good idea to retreat to the glassed-in patio at the restaurant, so went in there for another coffee.  The patio had a beautiful view of the lake, so we had a nice visit there for about 45 minutes until the weather started to improve.  The rain seemed to disappear as quickly as it had started.

                There’s a view point slightly uphill from the restaurant and an old Church on the summit.  The Church has a rooftop viewing terrace which is really the highest point on the mountain.  The view was amazing!  There was a large communications tower on the summit as well, just downhill from the Church.  The view towards Lugano and the surrounding area was a bit “hazy” but I got  a few photos from the top of the Church.

                After my visit to the mountain, I returned to the Hotel to drop some of my gear and then went for dinner.  Tonight I decided on a restaurant called The Spaghetti Store, which the staff at the Hotel had recommended when I first arrived.  Although it was back towards Paradiso, it wasn’t a long walk.  However it turned out to be an unfortunate choice.   While I was looking through the Menu, the Waiter appeared and asked “Mister, did you decide to order yet” (I could almost imagine him tapping his feet and looking at his watch).  I ordered a Spaghetti dish and some wine.  The Spaghetti turned out to be average quality, but quite a large portion.  I wanted to order some coffee after dinner, but the Waiter had mysteriously disappeared and it took about 20 minutes before I could “flag down” a Waitress and get some coffee.  Overall, it was not a pleasant dining experience and if or when I return to Lugano, I WON’T be dining there!

                Back at the Hotel I got my Packs loaded as I’ll be leaving in the morning.  The weather worsened during the eveing, and there was not only pouring rain but also thunder and lightning.  It was a good night to sit in the room and get some computer work done, although by this time my Swisscom internet card was starting to run low (I had purchased a 3-hour card for SF$15 when I arrived).
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Fred on

Howdy Ken, most interesting reading. A nice way to spend a night shift, bet you don't miss it. All the best

eagle10 on

Fred, glad you're enjoying the Blog. I imagine night shift is a bit "quieter" with no one to talk to. Hope all is well at SIO.

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