Friday, January 22, 2010

Il Vaggio al Courmayeur II

Aosta - Courmayeur

Day 06 continued

The train 12:45 hr for Pre Saint Didier consist of one carriage with one door in the middle. It left on time on the journey that was filled with pleasant surprises.

If the Aosta station was small, the train stations to Courmayeur were tiny!

Does the Capo no longer have an office?

Some of the train tracks were running practically behind someone's backyard.

After what feels like eternity, we arrived at Pre Saint Didier. Since I had kept my camera away to free my hands to handle by backpack, Amalina and the stroller, I could not capture the picture of the station. Perhaps the Villineuve station will give you an idea what the size of the Pre Saint Didier Station was.

We had planned to take a taxi from Pre Saint Didier to Courmayeur. Afterall, from the information I found, Pre Saint Didier was merely 5 km away from Courmayeur. What I didn't realize that there were no taxis waiting for passengers at Pre Saint Didier Station. In fact, we were the only ones who got down there! Perhaps we could call for a taxi but to my dismay, our WIND Italian sim card had no reception at Pre Saint Didier!

We thought, why not ask the train driver if he could help us with directions and to our dismay both him and the train were gone!

At the corner of the station was a tiny bar which was still closed. Trying our luck, we ventured inside, hoping that someone in there could help us call a taxi. The cleaning lady, whose Italian accent was different than what I was used to, kindly gave us a business card for a taxi for Courmayeur whom we could call to fetch us. I asked if she has a telephone for us to use and she could not help us with that. Instead, she suggested that we walk to the Piazza which was 5 minutes away.

Slightly nervous, we trudged along; Saiful with a huge rucksack on his back and our huge suitcase, me with Amalina's stroller and another backpack on my back, in the slush on a quiet road, with no signs of another vehicle.

At the end of that quiet road, I saw a boy, no more than 10 years old, shoveling his front walk. My Italian came back in a hurry. I greeted him and asked if the Piazza was in that direction. And he said yes it was.

I asked him if there were taxis there to take us to Courmayeur. And he shook his head and said nope, there won't be taxis there.

Instead he pointed to us the bus station (which we did not notice before because it was hidden behind a mountain of snow) and told us that there are buses to Courmayeur from the l'fermata. I asked him what time the bus will come and he said well I'm not sure you'll just have to wait there.

I was slightly nervous as we could be waiting for another hour for the bus to come. Luck was on our side as a bus pulled into the bus stop merely 5 minutes later. We were the only passengers on the bus and the driver waited patiently for us to haul all our luggage onto the bus.

The bus fare from Pre Saint Didier to Courmayeur was EUR1.30 and the journey took no more than 20 minutes. As we pullled into Courmayeur I was excited and nervous at the same time.

I had tried to look for directions for the hotels via google maps before we left but could not find details. I tried asking the bus driver after he boarded the bus but he didn't know where the Hotel was and suggested I ask someone.

The main bus station where we got off its actually very convenient. There is a bus ticket office, Tourist Information office and Hotel booking office. Unfortunately the Tourist Information office was closed. What a day right?

Luckily I found a big self service map showing where all the location of the hotel was in Courmayeur (yes it was that small). We followed the directions for the Hotel Bouton D'or which was as follows:

Take the steps up on the right side. There is a path from the front of the Post Office that lead you directly to the front of the hotel.

Sounds simple enough right? Except the path mentioned was covered knee deep with snow. took us a few minutes to figure out with one the correct path was! Not to mention that it was impossible to pull the luggage through knee deep snow!

This was the path after they had shoveled it the next day.

So DH and The Little One stayed behind at the Post Office while I trudged ahead looking for the hotel and perhaps I can ask for help there.

Upon arrival at the Hotel, I recognize Patrizia, the owner, from the picture on the website. I introduced myself and told her about our problem. Patrizia told me not to worry and her husband will pick DH and The Little One up from the post office. She also informed me that she has instructed the chambermaid to put extra pillows in our room for The Little One.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Il Vaggio al Courmayeur I

Torino - Aosta

Day 06

We has a early start. Left the hotel at 750 am to catch the 825 am Train to Aosta and then to Pre Saint Didier.

At the station we found that the earlier train to Aosta has been canceled. We banked on hope that our train will still run! Had to change platform. Found train filled with people. We were grateful when the train departed on time.

The view from the train.

DH catching up with some sleep while Andrea Bocelli croons to him as the Italian countryside fly past.

Amalina having a snack.

First sight of the mountains.

View as we pulled into Aosta.

The train arrived in Aosta. We arrived over an hour late behind schedule. We had planned to deposit our bags at the left luggage at the station to make our way to Pila. Read somewhere that the Pila cable car was not too far from the train station.

But alas, the train station was small and had no left luggage facility. Did not feel like lugging our huge suitcase plus 2 big bags to the cable cars.

The next train to Pre Saint Didier was at 1245. The staff at the Aosta train station suggested that we enquired at the Tourist Information office for more information.

Amalina, however, was unaware of our constantly changing travel plans and couldn't resist playing with snow. This is, afterall, what this journey is all about!

Checkout how much snow there was on that car!

I am so amazed how easily she made friends. Another little girl seeing her playing with the pile of ice approached her calling her "Bimba! Bimba!" She didn't respond to the girl that time.

Afterwards, on their way to the Tourist Information office, they met up with the girl again and played in the snow for awhile. The girl thought it was funny to push Amalina into the snow.

But alas, the Tourist office was closed! Amalina found time to play with some snow instead!

Turns out that buses do run from Aosta to Courmayeur and the journey would take 1 hour. Since we had the Eurail pass for the day and the bus leaves at 1230, merely 15 mins earlier than the train, we opted for the train.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Dolce Vita

Firenze - Torino

Day 05

From Firenze, we parted ways with our travel companions. Since it was their first time in Italy, they decided that it was a must to do Rome. DH and I have done Roma before, albeit separately, so we decided to venture into the Alpi or the mountains instead for Amalina to play with snow.

Our initial plan was to travel directly to Courmayeur but during my research, I found that the journey would take over 7 hours on the train. And that would mean all daylight hours and we didn't fancy arriving at someplace new when it was all dark. So we decided to stop at Torino overnight instead.

We had traveled to Torino before via Ryanair (tickets cost us 1 pence, came to GBP17 total for the ticket, happy days...) before so it would be familiar.

We departed at 7 15 am. The staff at Cantinetta da Verrazzano (where we have been having our breakfast) were busy preparing for their opening. We wished them, "Buon Natale!" and good bye and they waved us off. (Did I mention that the people in Firenze were very friendly?)

The journey from Firenze to Torino on the FRECCIAROSSA was 3 hours. I would recommend to anyone planning to travel up and down the country by train to purchase a EURAIL pass. We found the cost difference between first class and second class were marginal and it was very comfortable, clean and good value.

We arrived in Torino late by 60 minutes. The train had to slow down at several areas due to the unusual snow. We immediately checked in The Best Western Hotel Genova, which is right next to the station.

Funnily enough the guy at the reception told us that he wants to move to Malaysia. (He thinks Singapore was nice but too clean.)

Our plan was to travel to Arquata Scrivia to shop at the McArthurglen Serravalle so off we set off to the train station. But alas, the trains to Arquata were canceled due to the weather. Initially we thought of taking a different train and change but since that train was delayed indefinitely, we decided to abort the plan and spend the day in Torino instead.

Amalina enjoying the Ligurian style focaccia or pizza by the slice on an airy soft yet crispy bread.

Mother and child outside the Palazzo Reale in Torino.

Lady in Torino looking very cold as she walked across the square at Palazzo Reale.

The news in Torino for the day was about how much snowfall they encountered and how the public transportation was affected. They even had to mobilize the army to help shovel the snow at the square.

Salmon mousse anyone?

Mostarda di Frutta, fruits preserved in mustard oil. I didn't know why I didn't buy some to try that day. Now I wished that I did!

Do you think they like cream?

Price clearly marked, something I like very much.

Gelato anyone?

Amalina had one. Even though it was freezing cold.

Playing on a pile of ice/snow on the square. It was only 6:02 pm but it was already dark.

I'm making a snowball.

It started to snow again and getting really cold so we decided to head back to the hotel and get ready for dinner.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Fare spese

San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale

We decided that Day 04 would be dedicated to visiting the famous markets of Firenze. So a visit to the San Lorenzo mercato centrale was in order. The city's major produce market, the mercato is full of fresh produce, delis and sundry items from around the region.

Outside the market are rows and rows of shops selling leather goods like bags, belts, hats, scarfs etc. We didn't take any pictures though, partly because it was cold and partly we didn't want to be distracted. I had read a tip somewhere that there could be pickpockets about in the area.

Once we stepped into the produce market however, we found the place less crowded and more relaxed. Out came the camera.

Balsamic vinegar? How old do you want them? 10 years? 15? 25? or 50? The 50 year old one was over 100 Euros.

What about some of that aromatic porcini mushrooms?

I like how the goods are displayed in the area. All prices are clearly market so no guessing is necessary.

It got colder and colder in the market and the gentleman decided to but a beany on.

They do cater for the Japanese tourists.

Are you buying for today or for Natale?

This lady whose name I forgot, got the lion share of our purchases as she was kind enough to welcome us and took a lot of time to explain and educate us about the different balsamic vinegars and the different tastes of olive oil. Also had a large sample of cheese for us to sample.

The 100 year old Balsamic vinegar was lovely but costs way too much for my pocket. Perhaps a real connoisseur can appreciate.

Our travel companions enjoying the sampling session.

Here we are after our purchases. After which I asked her where we could have a good lunch and she directed to a place that looked like a hole in the wall. But it was jammed packed with locals and the food was delicious and reasonably priced.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

La Torre de Posa

Day 03

Amalina's fascination with the Leaning Tower of Pisa began after watching a Little Einstein episode. I didn't realized how much that stayed with her until one day, after stacking some cups upside down, they went a bit lopey and she declared, "Look Mummy! The Leaning tower of POSA!"

Leaning Tower of Posa? She meant Pisa? Since then we realised that she had a little fascination for The Leaning Tower of Pisa and decided that we would bring her to see the real thing one day.

And the day has come.

The train ride from Firenze is just over an hour.

The train ride to Pisa was littered with scenes of the countryside covered with snow.

We arrived at Pisa not knowing where to go. I know we had to catch a bus to the Torre. Found a bus Map that told us that we want the Rossa line or the Red line.

A lady who was standing at the bus stop kindly informed us that the l'fermata (bus stop) for the Rossa line towards the Torre is in front of the albergo (hotel.) By this time by old Italian classes are coming back to be quite quickly!

I asked her where we should get the biglietti (tickets) for the l'autobus and she told us that we didn't need them as the bus was free on Domenica (Sunday.) Hooray! Imagine that! Free bus on Sundays! So here's a good tip for you travellers to Pisa out there! Buses are free on Sundays! (In Dec 2009 that is.)

I am so grateful for the hospitality of strangers to tourists! She told us all that information with a smile. What would we do without the goodwill of friendly strangers?

When we got on the bus, I heard two Singaporean girls behind me. I could tell they were my countrywomen not only from their accent but also from the following conversation.

Girl 1: How did you know this one is the bus ah?
Girl 2: I asked the guy at the shop. And he told me.
Girl 1: So ah, how do you know where to get off?
Girl 2: You will know one.
Girl 1: Aiyaa Pisa so ulu and so kampung wan ah? Look like Malaysia like dat.
Girl 2: Ulu? This is not ulu yet. Later I show you Ulu.

Wah you see ah. I cannot tahan wan the girl talk like dat! She says ah Pisa Ulu like Malaysia like dat. But ah, nevermind ah, gud wan she is travelling to see the world. If not ah she thinks only Malaysia ulu and kampung one.

I smiled at myself as I listened to that conversation. I hope that I will be able to broaden my child's horizon so she can see the world and the big picture.

Girl 1 however was quite right. Pisa on Sunday was rather quiet and there wasn't much going on there except for the Duomo and the Torre! As soon as you get into the walls of the Duomo, one sight you will see a lot of are people taking photographs!

David, on the left side of Amalina, is not the only one with the weird poses in the vicinity. Almost all the tourists were trying to capture all sorts of poses with the famous leaning tower.

And here is the picture Amalina took as Abah took her picture. As you can guess, yes we are sometimes a picture taking family.

For posterity's sake we all had to take pictures with the Torre because otherwise there isn't that much else to do there. The sky looked different between the two pictures because we each used different cameras.

I didn't even pick up a fridge magnet there! Everything was made in China and costs a bomb.

After all those pictures we were ready for lunch. Now I had read another tip that suggested we ate further away from the Torre area itself because some were overpriced and not as delicious.

However I could not resist entering a chocolate shop, Dolce Pisa, Caffe Pasticceria at via S Maria. Found out they served pasta as well as delicious hot chocolate!

This was Amalina's Spaghetti con frutta di mare. We had wolved down the Risotto con Aspiragi before I could remember to take a picture. (It was a cold day and posing for pictures is hard work!)

I ordered Ciocolatta Calda Fondante (Dark hot chocolate) and DH ordered one with some pepper in them. Can you see how thick the hot chocolate is? Taste exactly like melted chocolate!

We then decided to take a walk. Without a map, and not sure where to go, we decided to follow the direction where other people we walking. Finally arrived to a place that looked like the town center and found their Sunday Market!

Finally found a bus stop that was serving the Rosso line. Our travel companion was looking at the bus schedule.

Do you still think Pisa look like kampung in Malaysia?

We managed to get the train back to Firenze and I could not resist paying homage to my mothership.