Venice by train: Part 5. Venice to Brighton, via Milan, the Bernina Express and Zurich

Day 5: Wednesday 28 October 2015
After breakfast, Sam walked me to the Rialto Mercato vaporetto stop and yes, my 48-hour bus pass worked this morning too! Managed to squeeze on to the water bus and got off at Ferrovia, the iron road. Then it was back to Milan Centrale. I took the metro to Moscova and followed the directions to La Favia, which I found mainly by accident.

Milan Duomo
Milan Duomo
The maid said I could get a No. 2 tram to Duomo so I bought two tickets from the newspaper seller and headed south, trying to remember some landmarks. The cathedral was easy to spot so I jumped off and had a wander through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II where women were taking selfies in front of Prada, to La Scala and the statue of Leonardo, then the other side of the square. I caught a tram back and had a beer in the Biffi bar where old men were playing cards and shouting at each other, then back to LaFavia Four Rooms. I was in a sort of apartment on the roof, lots of windows and very well appointed, but no TV! The place had an oriental feel about it - the owners had travelled.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan
That evening I set off for eats, walking through the rain as far as Eataly, near Garibaldi station, but nowhere felt right so I bought a mini pizza and some focaccia at a supermarket and warmed them up back at the B&B in the microwave. And my hip flask kept me company.

Dead loco at Tirano
Dead loco at Tirano
Day 6: Thursday 29 October 2015
Breakfast was served on the narrow balcony, pre-ordered the night before - scrambled eggs again! Then I set off along Via Volta to Moscova and the Metro to Centrale. The seats were unreserved so I chose a window seat on the right hand side, overlooking the Orient Express. Bad choice! To get the best views of Lake Como, you need to sit on the left side. Nevertheless, the ride to Tirano was pretty scenic.

Inside the Bernina Express
Inside the Bernina Express
 At Tirano, I checked out the two dead steam locos parked there (we also passed one at Vicenza but I didn't manage a photo) and on the recommendation of the Man in Seat 61 had a beer (media) and wrap (vegetarian: tomato, mozzarella and tuna!) at Margi Bar (the receipt says Margy Bar) overlooking the two stations. There was not much activity and no sign of a train, so at about a quarter to three I wandered over to the ticket office, to be told the first part of the Bernina Express journey - to Poschiavo - would be by replacement bus! Soon we were waved through the border with Switzerland and eventually we got on the train. I was opposite an English couple from Norwich. Although the windows were panoramic, there were still reflections, so it was difficult to take decent photos.

Bernina Express
Ospizio Bernina snow
The highest point was Ospizio Bernina (2253m), and there was snow on the platform! Although Switzerland is scenic, and we were up high, it's not a wilderness… there were roads and traffic everywhere. We saw snowy peaks, icy reservoirs and glaciers, but about 5pm, half way through our journey, it started to get dark . The tantalising running commentary kept on telling us we were going over high viaducts and gorges but all was pitch black outside.

Bernina Express
View from the Bernina Express
At Chur, the train to Zürich was waiting across the platform and we skirted the lake in the dark. At Zürich I headed towards the river and through the tram station. When I stopped to consult my map a young lady said "Hi, hello!" and I immediately went into embarrassment mode saying "I'm OK, thank you," and dashing across the tracks. Of course it could have been just a friendly native and I regret being so rude, but… I spotted the Hotel de Theatre over the bridge and made for it. In the reception and rooms it had a Audrey Hepburn theme going and the receptionist was very helpful, providing me with a map to the pedestrianised areas of the old town. After dumping my stuff in the tiny single expensive room, I set out for a nightcap.

Chopfab Irish stout
After a walk nearly to the lake, a look in at the packed Cabaret Voltaire, and drawing out 50 Swiss francs from a cash machine, I settled for a dunkel (Chopfab Irish stout) at the Andorra Bar. Back at the hotel, my room had British TV, all channels, so I caught some of Detectorists before bed!

Day 7: Friday 30 October
Another early start, so was up and heading for the station. I bought a bottle of water at the Co-op and a cappuccino and tomato and mozzarella sandwich at the station. The journey to Paris, via Dijon, was uneventful, but I got diddled by the ticket machine not giving change (of a €2 coin) and on the RER between stations, the train stopped at Châtelet–Les Halles. The announcer said something in French and everyone got off, so I followed. On the platform, the announcer said something else and they all got back on again, so did I. Then a train arrived across the platform and everyone rushed over to catch it. I did too, and thankfully it got me to Gare du Nord, where some enormous queues for the Eurostar were waiting… Apparently, cable theft at Lille meant a diversion and delays. Unfortunately I was in a joke seat again so couldn't enjoy the unusual sights. It arrived at St Pancras just over an hour late, so I will get compo. And I was home by the early evening.

Seat with restricted view!
More photos on Flickr.


Venice by train: Part 4. Venice Biennale

Rialto  fish market, Venice
Day 4: Tuesday 27 October 2015
Tuesday was Biennale day, theme All the World’s Futures. I got up early to look round the Rialto fish market, and all kinds of weird and wonderful seafood was on offer. Next door is an amazing fruit and veg market with all kinds of mushrooms and misshapen tomatoes. We got the vaporetto from Rialto Mercato, our nearest stop and got off at Giardini. There is a mystery stop not on any maps called Giardini Biennale, but it's only a couple of yards from this one. I bought the tickets (my senior one cost €20 and included Arsenale too) and entered the park. First pavilion was Spain with a mixed show, including an adults-only magazine stall, behind a curtain!

Spanish porn, Venice Biennale Giardini
Spanish porn
Next was Belgium as we carried on up the left side clockwise, then Holland, then a big general one. Some pavilions has a mixed show; others had a single artist. Some were minimal (like Austria); others were cluttered (like Greece). We did them all except the ones that involved climbing. Then I got a free ride on a very slow fairground ride by Carsten Höller, the slide man. Favourites: the moving tree by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot in the French pavilion, the dazzling revolutionary red and perestroika green room by Irina Nakhova in the Russian pavilion (and the giant pilot's head), and the Japanese keys on red threads by Chiharu Shiota. Not forgetting our own Sarah Lucas in the GB pavilion.

Russian Pavilion, Venice Biennale Giardini
Russian pavilion
I found the pavilions themselves as interesting as the art within, many are art deco and were built for extinct countries. The Yugoslavian pavilion houses Serbia: the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic share a space…
Japanese Pavilion, Venice Biennale Giardini
We could have spent a week in there, but there was also the Arsenale to see! A couple of stops on the vaporetto into town and we're at the Arsenale.

Venice Biennale at Arsenale
It's big! It's one long thin building which goes on and on and on, about three artists' spaces wide and miles long. We couldn't possibly see it all and some routes were blocked by school parties. Basically, we stopped when something caught our eye. I was taken by a couple of drawing projects: imaginary schoolboy weapons from Abu Bakarr Mansaray (Sinister project 2006) and factory drawings by Joachim Schönfeldt, which were being drawn by some British kids. At the end of the long building, we emerged into daylight to find we'd covered just about half the site, completely cultured out!

Half way! Venice Biennale
Half way?
The flooded Tuvalu (Vincent J. F. Huang, on climate change) and Irish pavilions (Sean Lynch) were nearby, so we visited them and called it a day. We didn't get to see any of the others dotted around the city.

Posh cicchetti, was advised to start from the right
After a beer, some Venetian sushi and a lie down, Sam and Teege treated me to a very posh meal at Alle Corone restaurant in the AI Reali hotel, just over the Rialto Bridge. I had their version of cicchetti, every piece of seafood imaginable that would have fed four, followed by turbot on cauli mash, served with a nice red wine, the first in Italy. We were also treated to an amuse-bouche from the chef of tuna and beans and then some chocolates for afters, and there was a cheesy pianist playing in the next door bar. It was another beer by the canal, near the hotel, then bed!

More photos on Flickr.


Venice by train: Part 3. Venice sightseeing

View from the hotel
View from the hotel - the building to the left (out of shot) was the Scottish pavilion
Day 3: Monday 26 October
The biennale is closed on Mondays so today was devoted to sightseeing. I awoke in room 107 to pitch blackness - I discovered that when they turn down the sheets and put out the slippers at L'O, they also close the shutters outside the window. Breakfast was rather good, with scrambled eggs and tutti fruiti alongside the continental stuff - there was even an open bottle of prosecco - and look at the view I had outside, behind me in the breakfast room (photo above). Was the hotel in a former clock factory? I never found out, but there were many clockwork mechanisms in display cases. We walked to Rialto Bridge to buy a vaporetto 48-hour pass for €30 - now there's a lot of steps - and boarded a water bus to Accademia for the Peggy Guggenheim museum (my ticket €12). It's like a miniature Tate Modern, with all the major 20th century artists represented… I loved the Magrittes and Kandinskys. But I got told off for taking a photo of the No Photography sign outside the Jackson Pollock exhibition!

Peggy Guggenheim museum, Venice
No photographing the No Photography sign!
We then walked past the breathtaking Santa Maria della Salute and got a vaporetto to St Mark's Square where we walked past Harry's Bar and had a sit down, coffee and cake (I went savoury and had a salad club sandwich) outside Florian, where the band was playing - well, you have to don't you!

Teege and Sam at Florian, St Mark's Square, Venice
Teege and Sam rest their weary feet at Florian
After marvelling at the square, and not going up the tower, we took the water bus to the end of the line at Lido, then right back to the end of Line 1 to the bus station P. de Roma, and back again to the hotel.

Squid ink
Squid in ink with polenta and some of Sam's spaghetti

In the evening we had cicchetti (don't be fooled, the guide books say these are cheap - €1 a go, but they really work out at around €3 a bite - we never did find the tomato and anchovies on toast ones like Rick Stein had) and spritz (mmm, love that Campari) overlooking the canal, under a big moon, then found the family restaurant we passed last night (Osteria Trattoria Nono Risorto) and Sam and I split the deal of the day: I had squid in ink with polenta and he had the spaghetti.

And so to bed…

More photos on Flickr.


Venice by train: Part 2. Brighton to Venice

Day 1: Saturday 24 October
I hate getting up early! But on holiday you have to get up early to catch trains and take advantage of breakfast in your hotel/B&B. So, it was up at 5.30, in the dark, to London Road to begin my Euro-journey. At Brighton I managed to catch the Thameslink half an hour before, which gave me breathing space at St Pancras, time to buy a falafel sandwich from WH Smith. Inside the departure lounge, I had a cappuccino and overpriced croissant from the bar. On the Eurostar I found I'd been dealt a joke seat (coach 16, seat 22), made worse by the person in front - with a view - pulling down the blind so he could play computer games!

Le Train Bleu, Gare du Nord, Paris
Beer at Le Train Bleu
At Paris Gare du Nord I found the RER line D south and caught a double decker to Gare de Lyon. To save on stress I'd bought a ticket from the bar on the Eurostar. It cost €2, so I was diddled out of 20c. (on the way back I used a machine, put in €2 to discover it didn't give change! Ah well.) I had nearly two hours to kill in Paris so I climbed the steps up to Le Train Bleu and had a beer (Pelforth Brune, €7.50) which came with some olives, nuts and lumps of garlic. The seven-hour journey to Milan Garibaldi was uneventful, except that as we entered the Alps it got dark, a recurring theme. Sam and Teege met me at Garibaldi and we took the metro to Zara and our B&B Vietnamonamour, which you guessed it, was above a Vietnamese restaurant! After a well deserved beer, it was up to my gaudy room and goodnight Milano.

Day 2: Sunday 25 October
Now, we lost (or gained) an hour down the tunnel, and we lost (gained) another overnight, so I was an hour early for the breakfast, but it gave me time to check Facebook on the wifi. Eventually a friendly woman arrived, opened the blinds and made me a cappuccino, followed by scrambled egg on toast and cake (mostly demolished by Sam and Teege)! It was a leisurely walk to Centrale, that magnificent station that Mussolini built, and time for another coffee before our 12.35 train to Venice, via Lake Garda and Verona. At Vicenza, we spotted a dead 2-6-0 loco outside the station. Soon we were on the causeway with a couple of cruise liners in view, and stepping out of the station, we were right on the Grande Canal!

View from Venice railway station
View from Santa Lucia station
Sam reckoned we could walk to the hotel, but what we hadn't considered was the number of steps in Venice! All those pretty bridges over canals large and small contain steps up, and steps down, and wheelie cases do make a noise over them, no wonder the Venetians want them banned. After a brief beer stop and a few dead ends we eventually found our hotel L'Orologio, overlooking the Grande Canal.

Venice has lots of steps, like these on every bridge!
Some of those Venetian steps
That evening we went out searching for cicchetti (the bars shown on the Rick Stein tv show were all shut), but made do with pizza, and... made the tourist mistake of asking for Grande Birra at one bar, to be served enormous and expensive jugs! The correct term for a pint is media. I also enjoyed my first spritz.

Venice is a peculiar place - no cars! And I only saw one bike. Everything moves by boat: fridge deliveries, bin bags, police, ambulance and, with all the steps, it must be a daunting place for anyone in a wheelchair!

To be continued…

More photos on Flickr.


Venice by train: Part 1. Itinerary

Some euro tickets, the main ones were print-yourself e-tickets
Yes, it is possible, and not necessarily by the Orient Express either (though when I was leaving Venice, it was moored alongside, with boring loco at the front). I am indebted to The Man in Seat 61 for help with the planning and, with only a couple of minor glitches, it all went like clockwork. Also to my Number One Son and Heir Sam and his partner Teege for treating me to the Venice experience. They travelled to Milan by aeroplane, and back from Rome. Finally I should like to thank the humble tomato, without which a vegetarian in Europe might starve!

I also recommend buying tickets from Loco2 - simple, straightforward website, all in English, pay in British pounds!

Here follows the itinerary, with prices to demonstrate how cheap rail travel is on the Continent, and I'm aiming to flesh the blog out over the next few days:

Gare du Nord, Paris
Paris Gare du Nord
Saturday 24 October
6.24 London Road > 6.27 Brighton
7.08 Brighton > 8.33 St Pancras  £10.40
(in fact, I caught the Thameslink train half an hour earlier!)
9.17 St Pancras > 12.47 Paris Gare du Nord £74.50
Gare du Nord > Gare de Lyon - RER line D south €2
14.41 Gare de Lyon > 21.51 Milan Garibaldi €29
Vietnamonamour L'isola B&B Milan
Venice Santa Lucia railway station (Ferrovia)
Venice Santa Lucia station
Sunday 25 October
Milan Centrale 12.35 > Venice Santa Lucia 15.10
L'Orologio Venice

Monday 26 October
L'Orologio Venice

Tuesday 27  October
L'Orologio Venice

Milan Centrale station
Milano Centrale
Wednesday 28  October
L'Orologio Venice check out
10.50 Venice > 13.25 Milan Centrale £6.87
Hotel LaFavia, Milan

Thursday 29 October
10.20 Milan Centrale > 12.52 Tirano Trenord €11.50
15.00 Tirano RhB > 19.03 Chur (Bernina Express) 72 swiss francs
19.09 Chur > 20.23 Zurich £29
Hotel de Theatre, Zurich

Friday 30 October
07:34 Zurich > 11:37 Paris Gare de Lyon €69
Gare de Lyon > Gare du Nord €2 (should have been €1.80 but machine did not give change)
13:13 Paris Gare du Nord > 14:39 (delayed to 15.57) London St Pancras £67.50 (-£34 delay compo)
St Pancras > Brighton £11.30
Brighton > London Road

More photos on Flickr.

Chur to Zurich train
Chur to Zurich train and a TGV like the one that carried me to Paris


Bluebell Giants of Steam

Vintage buses at Sheffield Park
The bus that brought us here (left) and the bus that took us home (right)
Bluebell's Giants of Steam usually this clashes with the ELR Autumn Steam Gala, but this year I was able to get there, hot-footing it from my Euro trip (blog to follow). It was also one of the few days that free vintage bus rides were available, So I joined Pete and Lisa at St Peter's church to flag one down, just after mid-day.

925 Cheltenham
925 Cheltenham

For the record, the locos in steam were:

Visiting locomotives:
  • Schools Class No. 925 Cheltenham.
  • LNER A4 Class No. 4464 Bittern (from the Mid Hants Railway and going out of service after this event for overhaul!)

73082 Camelot at Horsted Keynes
73082 Camelot
Bluebell locos:
  • Southern Railway S15 Class No. 847
  • Southern Railway Q Class No. 30541
  • British Railways Standard Class 5 No. 73082 Camelot
  • South Eastern & Chatham Railway H Class No. 263
4464 Bittern
4464 Bittern
We arrived just in time to catch the 13.30 to East Grinstead, hauled by Cheltenham, and we joined Tarquin and Tamsin, who had been there all day. Pete and Lisa went to explore East Grinstead and we returned to Horsted Keynes to photograph Camelot (I'd never seen in steam before) and Bittern. Then it was onto a train pulled by 847 back to Sheffield Park, a quick look round the sheds where another tank (H Class 263) was in steam,  and home on a different bus just as it was getting dark.


Bury in October: folk and steam

By a happy coincidence, the East Lancs Railway's Autumn Steam Gala coincided with the Homegrown Folk Festival, and what's more, my favourite folk group The Unthanks were on! Mount the air!

Hanging in the Portrait gallery
First on my list, however, last Friday, was a visit to the newly extended Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. So, it was on a tram and then a bus down Oxford Road, past the museum and countless university buildings to the Manchester Royal Infirmary and across the road, the Whitworth. First impression was that it was spacious, then disappointment to see the watercolours, for example, including the Willian Blakes hanging right up to the ceiling (no captions either, but there's a written key available in each room). The main exhibition was Art Textiles and I enjoyed seeing Cornelia Parker's embroidery of the Wikipedia entry for the Magna Carta! Also impressed by the obsessive pencil drawings of Richard Forster.

Whitworth cafe in the trees
I should have gone to the Cafe in the Trees when there was no queue, but didn't. On the blackboard outside was listed soup and three salads. I later found out you could have everything for £7.50. But the cafe had a strange MO: you queue, get allocated a table, queue again at the counter, pay and take a number and the food is delivered to your table. The food was good tho, with much needed vitamins!

Romanesco and beetroot soup
On the way back I checked out the refurbished Victoria station and popped into Bury Art Gallery. I was impressed by the exhibition of political art, including some blue plates with nuclear power stations on by Paul Scott. Sad to see that the little cafe there is gone!

34092 Wells and BR Standard Class 4 2-6-4 Tank No. 80080
34092 Wells and 80080 at Rawtenstall
On Saturday it was time for trains. I bought a concession round trip for £13 and the first train out was the 12.15 to Rawtenstall, pulled by a double header of 80080 and 34092 Wells. At Rawtenstall, 80080 ran around leaving Wells at the back. It's never easy to get good snaps on a Gala weekend but there was a particularly annoying family taking lots of pix of their kids in front of the engine. After they'd finished they stood around chatting while we were waiting… I asked nicely if we could take some pictures now, and the woman got all sarcastic with me, saying she wanted to take our (me and some other train spotters) photos!

Ex-L&Y A Class 0-6-0 No. 12322
A-Class 12322
On the way back,  I alighted at Ramsbottom to buy a butter pie (for tea) in the market and a not very nice £1 sandwich from Morrisons. The next train along was pulled by 13065, with 34092 and 12322 as bankers. Back at Bury I took the Autocoach to Heywood and back, with a not particularly good seat. Then it was time for a pint of Titanic Plum Porter in the Trackside bar and back for tea of butter pie and a baked potato.

inside the cab of GWR pannier tank 6430
Look, no driver! The Autocoach loco 6430
For the record, the locos in steam were:
  • Ex-GWR 0-6-0 Pannier Tank No. 6430 with Autocoaches 167 and 163
  • SR West Country Class 4-6-2 No. 34092 'Wells'
  • BR Standard Class 4 2-6-4 Tank No. 80080
  • LMS Hughes Fowler Crab 2-6-0 No. 13065
  • Ex-L&Y A-Class 0-6-0 No. 12322
  • WD Austerity 0-6-0ST No. 132 ‘Sapper’
  • WD Austerity 0-6-0ST No. 75008 ‘Swiftsure’
  • Hudswell Clark 0-6-0 No. 32 ‘Gothenburg’
GWR pannier tank 6430
Pannier tank 6430 in the Autocoach sandwich
 Saturday night we met Adele in The Robert Peel Wetherspoons, thence to our front row seats at the Drill Hall for wonderful The Unthanks, with big band, supported by singer/songwriter Gren Bartley (with trio of pretty women playing fiddle, cello and drums) and the Andy May Trio - Northumbrian pipes, fiddle and guitar - only instrumentals. All washed down with Silver Street Brewing Co session beer. A big thank you to my favourite niece Debs for organising it!

LMS 12322 at Ramsbottom
A Class 12322
Sunday, first out was the Autocoach to Ramsbottom. The GWR Autocoach was a forerunner to the DMU and it meant that the driver can control the engine (which sits in between two coaches) from either end, by means of rods and levers. It still needs a stoker to fire the engine, however. In Rammy, it was the Pie Festival, so I bought a hot Thai green curry veggie one for now and a Double Bomber cheese and onion to take home. It was thus called cos it contains Thwaites Lancaster Bomber ale and Lancashire Bombe cheese! Then it was on to Rawtenstall pulled by 34092 with 12322 and 13065 as bankers. I stayed on board as no engine was running round and we returned to Bury, losing the two bankers at Rammy. There were too many locos for the trains, so nearly every one was a double header and/or with bankers at the back!

Swiftsure and Sapper
Double header of W^D tanks Sapper and Swiftsure
At Ramsbottom I met up with a Facebook friend and back at the Trackside in Bury had a pint of Blue Bee Tempest Stout, foregoing a trip to Heywood and back!

LMS Hughes Fowler Crab 2-6-0 No. 13065
The Crab at Ramsbottom
More photos on Flickr.