Postcard 11 & 12- Vernazza, Arona to Geneva

Easypeasy, hmmm – but not everything goes to plan!

Do we go direct to Geneva. Well we could! We could always take in an Italian lake, after all, I’ve never been there. We might stop in Milan, another place I haven’t been.

As it turns out we do a bit of winging it!

Cecilia has been in the chair with regard to accommodation with my suggestions being binned for (in no particular order)
not being near the station
not in the centre of the city
not on the outskirts of the city
not near where we need to be
too expensive
but it’s still a collective responsibility to try to chose the right one and she always shows me the screen of the choice being made and we’ve led a charmed life with rooms, apartments and occasionally a whole house at good to excellent prices. We’ve had quirky ones, boutiquey ones, odd ones that haven’t been where we expected them and outstanding ones and very rarely ones that we wouldn’t care to go back to.

We’re leaving Riomaggiore and our Interrail planning and booking app is telling us there are four stages in our trip to Arona

  1. Riomaggiore to La Spezia Central
    Change train.
  2. La Spezia Central to Genoa P.Za Principle
    Change train.
  3. Genoa P.Za Principle to Milano Central
    Change train.
  4. Milano Central to Arona

All goes well until we set foot on Riomaggiore station (yes that would be the first one on the above list) and we get our first minor inconvenience – the train is 20 minutes late. This means it’s going to be a bit tight for our connection at La Spezia and the consequent knock on effect doesn’t bear thinking about – or rather, it does!

We are drawing in to La Spezia and the train’s lethargic approach induces a degree of anxiety as we get ready for the dash to our train to Genoa. After an eternity of waiting for it to replace the very slow movement with stationary and the wonderful TSSHH sound of the doors opening we jump out and find a monitor. We scan the list of trains and with a sinking heart, we discover that our connection has gone. A very quick glance down the monitor and we find a non-bookable alternative that will get us there but we’re not sure when. We get on it anyway although there is a very worrying moment as the doors close on Cecilia’s rucksack leaving her on the inside looking a bit tense and the rucksack on the outside looking like a 1950’s mail sack ready for pickup. The doors open again and she quickly says, “I’m not sure about this train…”. The doors close again, this time they’re actually on the rucksack so now it’s nearly in but C is having second thoughts which is normal as indecision is her specialist subject. The doors open again and she gets in and finishes the sentence with something like, “…but there’s no alternative”.

So we’re on the train to Genoa reworking our tickets in the Interrail Planner and trying to figure out what time we get in and, more crucially, which station.

We’re in Genoa now with fingers crossed as it pulls into Genoa Nervi with an announcement that this was the terminus – bugger – we need Genoa Central!

So, more replanning and a dash to Genoa Central to look for an alternative train to Milan.

We haven’t written Milan off as a destination yet although my suggestion of an hotel there at 143 euros has been rejected on the basis of price. Booking dot com is asserting that ‘this is the last room at this price’ but who knows?

We’re now running so late that it’s unlikely to impossible to get the original train to Arona so for a few minutes we look for another hotel in Milan and C has found the same as me, the one that was listed has gone and there’s nothing under 250 euros now so we look back at the planner and find a train to Arona that’ll get us there at 10:23.

There’s a hint of confusion as we find the metro and get the right train to Milano Garibaldi only to find the Arona train that we need is at Milano Central – where we’ve just come from. So another dash across town to where we came from and with sigh of relief we board the Arona train with four minutes to spare.

Cecilia has found a nice looking apartment in Arona called the Secret Garden and the pictures look lovely but its check-in rules are up to 10pm so we’re trying to contact them to tell them of our late train issues and hope we can still get in but as the train speeds through the night we get no response. We’re a bit miffed because it’s been confirmed by booking dot com and she’s been trying since nine o’clock.

In the meantime we’d both been looking for a fall-back hotel with a 24 hour reception that could take us if the original falls over which is increasingly likely.

I’ve found one about 1.5km from the station and C has been looking at the Atlantic which stands next to the station – a bit pricy but much more handy considering the time of night and, we don’t know it yet but we get a deal.

We call into the Atlantic Hotel and speak to a lovely lady called Roberta and explain the situation. She responds with the offer of a room at a hugely discounted price of 150 euros which is a gift for a four star place like this near the station. She also tries to ring our original place but goes through to voicemail which is the same result that we’d had.

With the room guaranteed if we need it we scoot quickly through Arona and after several attempts to get a response at the site we go back and accept the room we were promised with lots of thanks and gratitude.

The morning brings a message from the Secret Garden with apologies and we can still have the second night if we need it so, rucksacks packed, we make our way there.

The proprietors are a delight and the room is superb. It also really does have a secret garden bathed in sunshine and is a quirky delight. All is forgiven.

With our rucksacks and valuables in a safe place we go exploring Arona and find a lovely walk to the top of Parco dela Rocco Borromea where we can see Lago Maggiore and some of the wonderful fortifications and monasteries. It’s a marvellous window into the past with contrasting evidence of today in the form of motor boats, ferries and the odd jet ski. We are lucky with the weather which has threatened us but not turned into anything but our luck is running out so we make our way back to the Secret Garden with the intention of purchasing a bottle of fizz to celebrate not being in an Italian workhouse.

Arona is a wonderful place, but we never did find a corner shop and Lidl that’s reported to be in town is a mystery so as the rain comes we go for a shower and prepare for what becomes a wonderful evening of banter with some Italian locals in a proper workaday bar followed by an outstanding meal.

So Arona was approached with a little trepidation due to lack of response, but we were showered with care and helpfulness through Roberta at the Atlantic Hotel followed by more care at the Secret Garden where we couldn’t have been better looked after.

All goes well with planning the Arona to Geneva trip with only one change of trains at Stresa. The wait is slightly over an hour so we take the opportunity to walk down to the lake. The day is clear and we can see the snow on the mountains ten or fifteen miles away. It’s a reminder that we’re still in spring and it can get chilly up there. It also initiates a look at the weather in Geneva it’s variable but not as cold as it was predicted a week ago but there’s a threat of rain. All’s well though, we packed waterproofs for Ireland. It seems longer than the two weeks since we landed in Belfast and we’ve covered a few miles since then but the waterproofs have certainly proved their worth. They were needed more for warmth in Ireland but very necessary for the extreme rain in Naples and Pompeii.

The connecting train is classed as international and I’m disappointed that it’s full and our seats are the type where you face each other over a table which means that anyone of normal height (me) has to tuck their legs under the seat area to avoid the embarrassment of playing footsie (or leggsie) under the table. Can be fun if you know the person opposite but not so good with a stranger.

The trip through the Alps is fabulous and surprises me with some flat areas and some terraced vineyards as well as the steep and often craggie slopes.

We’re met in Geneva by Rudina who takes us for a couple of beers at the Britannia. It’s great to catch up and invaluable when she shows us the rudiments of getting bus passes from the machine at the bus parade.

Rudina has kindly agreed to host us whilst we’re here although my stay has been shortened by an offer of tickets for the Costa Festival whilst C decides to continue the travels with a journey to Interlaken, a beautiful route referred to as the ‘Golden Ticket’.

Geneva is typically Swiss with busses that turn up on time and food that’s eyewateringly expensive. One of the Interrailing tips is if you’re planning a visit to Scandinavia and you think it’s expensive then you should replan it in Switzerland and you’ll immediately think it’s cheap.

Our evening consists of a fleeting visit to where we think the Old Town is (and some very expensive designer shops) then a return to the Britannia which has some pleasant food that’s affordable and Guinness – job done.

Lovely end to the day with a bus ride and we even get off at the right stop!

In the morning we open the blinds to a fabulous view of the Alps. Now I know what a picture window is.

My flight is not until 1850 so we spend the morning with an old colleague of Cecilia’s who is in charge of Support for the students at the International School. Coincidentally, it’s near the apartment and we’re there in five minutes.

Mike shows us around and explains the teaching languages are French and English but the student languages consist of 180 different ones. It’s a magical institution that rekindles my love of teaching. The students are enthusiastic and polite with a clearly excellent relationship with their teachers and especially Mike.

As we leave, the weather is turning so we return to the apartment. We’re discussing eating arrangements and we have a final stroke of luck in that C is reviewing some contacts on her phone and inadvertently dials Mike and he invites us to eat with him at the World Council of Churches which is next door to the school. It’s a delightful place that concentrates on what brings churches together rather than the opposite and it’s not all Christian. The Pope has had lunch here and preached in the chapel all wonderful information that brings the building to life. I’ve included some snaps.

Our final outing is a good walk to “The Broken Chair” A colossal sculpture of a wooden chair with one of the legs broken off that movingly symbolises the following:


Broken Chair is a symbol of both fragility and strength, precariousness and stability, brutality and dignity.

Originally conceived by Handicap International with the aim of urging nations to ban anti-personnel mines (in 1997) and cluster munitions (in 2008), Broken Chair is an ongoing symbol of the desperate cry of war-torn civilian populations.

Broken Chair is a reminder to the world’s nations to protect and aid our civilian victims.

It invites each one of us to denounce that which is unacceptable, to stand up for the rights of individuals and communities and call for their rightful compensation.

The fact that it’s sited in front of the United Nations should not go unnoticed.

We call back at the apartment for me to repack my trusty rucksack and both us make our way to our respective bus stops. Mine’s taking me to the airport and Cecilia into town. They’re on opposite sides of the same road and the number 5 into town is already at the stop so there’s no protracted goodbye a quick kiss and she’s gone and two minutes later so have I.

More to come from further North xx

Enjoy the snaps. G x

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