Italy 10th and 11th July (Novara and Stresa)

Saturday 10th July
We said our good byes to all the hotel staff, lots of kisses all round. Mel got all the many huge bags into the car and we set off about 9.30 and went into Aosta for a wander round. It’s a very interesting old town with loads of Roman history, we walked through the Praetorian gate and had a look at the arch of Augustus. All with a backdrop of big mountains. We had lunch outside of pizza and a bready things with herbs whose name I’ve forgotten.


Mel and Liz took us all to Turin airport and dropped us off around 2.30. So farewell to them and farewell to Annie and Caroline who went off to get their plane.
Having spent a good while at Turin airport before, I knew where to go to pick up my hire car. I got a nice little Fiesta with air con. A helpful Hertz man told me how to get out of the airport and onto the autostrada to get towards Vercelli.
No problems with the motorway driving although I didn’t understand that I had to press a big red button at the toll booth but a very bored voice told me what to do, and as it was disembodied I told him what to do once I had pressed the beeg red burton!
I reached Vercelli around 4.00 after driving past a huge field of solar panels, lots of fields of corn and for my disbelievers, endless endless fields of rice!
Vercelli was not that lovely, it was really hot, about 34C so I parked up in a big sleepy square (Piazza Pietro Paietta) with a huge statue of some old chap in it and set off to try and find the tourist information office. I saw a carabinieri officer and asked him where it was. He was very helpful so I set off according to his instructions. I didn’t quite follow them to the letter, which was pure luck, as I looked up to check the street I was on, what should I see but Vicolo Evasio Radice! (StreetView shows the street) Fantastic! Even though my great great grandfather was a key figure in the Risorgimento, his street is a bit blooming dreary and very small, with not a lot happening in it. I had been warned about this. Took a quick photo and got back to the air con in the Fiesta. I left Vercelli at 4.30, perhaps not giving it its full due but finding the intense heat of the plains a bit wearing.


I arrived in Novara some time after 5.00 and it turned out to be much bigger than I had imagined. I stopped at Carrefour and bought some water very cheaply, drove round a bit more but my homing instinct wasn’t working any more. Stopped outside the carabinieri, at this point still wondering whether this was the police or an army barracks, no matter, a very helpful woman officer took me to her office, whipped out a map, showed me where to go, did a reduced size photocopy for me, and drew arrows on it. She was great and it worked like a dream and 5 minutes later I was parking outside the Hotel Cavour. The man on reception opened up the electronic gates and I did a quick reverse and was safely parked up. The hotel and the room were fine, so I had a shower and rang home.
Went out about 7.15 for a wander around the old town, but having to pass disreputable youths lounging around the bus stops. The hotel is very near the station. I found a nice looking resto and sat outside as it was very steamy and humid (because of the conditions being so good for rice, the drawback being the vast quantities of mosquitoes).
I had gnochetta in gorgonzola sauce and yes it was yummy. I should have stopped at this point but of course you have to order the first 2 courses at the same time. This was followed by an enormous steak which was enough for 2 people, and salad which was enough for 4. I ate about half of it and washed it down with beer and water. It was far too much food and made me feel even hotter.
Back at the hotel, I had another shower to try and cool down as was yet again, drenched in sweat. Put the air con on full, but my stomach felt a bit overloaded. I was better when I got cooler.
I have never yet been to Italy and not been way too hot. Memo: must try in winter!


Aosta Pretorian gate
Aosta Augustan gate
Vicolo Evasio Radice – great great grandfather
Vicolo Evasio Radice – hmm
Cavour, Novara
Sunday 11th July
The last day of the holiday. I had a nice breakfast in the basement and made up a sandwich for my lunch. I spent at least an hour repacking my bags. Got off about 10.00 with more helpful driving instructions from the nice man on reception who said he had been very hot last night too! I just imagined the Italians were used to living in hot humidity but he clearly didn’t like it either.
I drove north again passing lots of paddy fields and took a photo as evidence for the naysayers! There were lots of cyclists in a race (great for Caroline), lots of motorcyclists not in a race but nearly all totally inadequately dressed. Onto Lago Maggiore which was not too far and stopped to take a photo when this huge lake came into view.
Arriving in Stresa which has giant and very over the top, in fact can only be described as “gay” hotels, in the best sense of the word. Hotel Iles de Borromees, Hotel Bristol.
I drove down a cobbled street to park next to the shore for the cable car. The car park was a coin machine i.e. self service plus you twirl your own supplied parking disc to the start time. It was also a very small car park, maybe 40 cars at most. In order to make the car park work, there were at least 7 car park attendants. I could not help but think this was overdoing it as they had in fact, no work whatsoever to do!
I bought a ticket for the quite old cable car which goes up to the peak of Matterone with stop offs for the Alpine Gardens, included in the ticket price. The car goes over the lake which was fun and I got out half way up to see the gardens, mainly because I wanted to go to the loo! The loo was a hole in the floor, which was a bit tricky with my knee at that point. The gardens had been set up so as to show the full wealth of Alpine flora although it’s not an Alpine setting as such and frankly I’d seen more when we out during the week!
I returned to the cable car, just in the nick of time as they were about to knock off for a few hours for lunch. Went up to the top cable car station, and then picked up the chair lift which took me very gently up the last 200m or so to the top. At this point it was still very misty and so no views, the summit had its ubiquitous cross, and what looked like a mobile phone mast. I ate my sandwich on the grass and then walked back to the cable car as the chair lift was stopped for lunch.
I had a look in a resto but it was full up so then I stopped at a cafe instead and bought a bottle of ice cold water to take away and drank an espresso.
I hopped back on the cable car and reached the bottom about 3.00. I was still very hot so put my feet in the Lago – the water was warm and very clean.
I drove to the airport managing to take a wrong turn but it was OK as I had plenty of time, but very poor sign posting is all I can say. I then had a mad moment when I was looking for Terminal 3 of Milan airport but there isn’t one and what I wanted was Terminal 1. I was flying from T1 Milan to T3 Manchester and had got muddled up in the heat. The garages appeared to all be shut so I returned the car to Hertz and had to pay them to fill it up which cost me more, perhaps I should have tried harder but I was tired and very hot by this time.
The airport was very busy but I checked in with a very pleasant Flybe woman, big contrast to evil Flybe woman at Manchester. I told her she was not to lose my bags!
I wanted the loo but it was closed for cleaning and so I ended up walking the entire length of the terminal building in my search for one. My knee was hurting as I was weighted with my cabin bag, also had hurt it moving my big bags from the car to the trolley.
I ate another aubergine, mozzarella and courgette sandwich, it’s called a something or other campagnolo and is very nice. Then I drank all the rest of my water so as not to have to lose it and so as to be fully hydrated.
I went to the departure lounge and then to the gate. The plane left about 40 minutes late but caught up well.
I gave up my seat so that a mother and daughter could sit together which meant I ended up with a very lovely Italian astro physicist on his way to an international conference at Manchester uni. His second baby was due on the 17th so he was having a last trip before all that fun. I helped him with £ i.e. which coins were which and with how to get to Oxford Road from the airport via Piccadilly.
The bags all turned up very quickly. I found my car and saw I’d left the window open. It was only 17C in Manchester so I took off my shorts and put my jeans on in the car park. The M62 was shut so I took the slow way home across the moors arriving about 11.00 where it was only 13C and a bit of shock after the big heat. It’s now a week later when I’m writing this and I’m still cold!!
Not reaching the summit has really dented my confidence about mountains and I’ve been pretty down all week. It’s not that I didn’t have a lovely holiday, I did and the Gran Paradiso National Park is absolutely stunning – I should like to go there again and walk some more but I’m reassessing what it’s all about for me. Maybe I don’t need to do summits. That said, I’m still thinking about some smaller summits over here…
Garibaldi, Aosta, Hotel Cavour in background
Paddy fields
Stresa old cable car
Stresa chair lift
From cable car
From cable car
Island in Lago Maggiore
Lago Maggiore
 Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

Italy 3rd and 4th July 2010 (Turin)

Saturday 3rd July

I woke up at 3.30 a.m. feeling completely hideous and left the house at 4.15, managing only a cup of tea and some juice. At Manc airport at 5.00. I checked in my bags but because the flight was with Flybe for BA, I was subject to their carriage rules which did not allow my small suitcase to come in the cabin with me “because the flight is very full”, so I had to pay extra to take my bag in the hold both ways. Grrr. Straight into a long queue for coffee and a yoghurt and granola pot in Costa. I went through into departures buying some Ibuprofen for Liz and some CK for me. There was no electronic notice about the gate but suddenly the tannoy said it was the last call. Seeing as how there hadn’t been any call this was not quite true. I had a double seat all to myself and stretched out. The plane was late leaving which made me late into Milan. Then thanks to the evil lying Flybe attendant, not content with fleecing me for my bag, she sent it off into lost luggage land. This was the biggest of my several “lost and found” events of the holiday. This was the bag with all my clothes in it, not the bag with all my mountain kit in it. All I had was what I stood up in, short sleeve shirt, jeans, sweatshirt (it was chilly that early in the morning), big thick walking socks and very big Alpine walking boots! It was pretty hot in Milan – high 20s. The airport staff were very helpful and gave me claim forms and said the bag would most likely appear the next day.
Time was marching on and although my plans had given me lots of time for lunch at Milan airport, I now had no time for any refreshments or comfort break before catching my bus to Turin so just had to leap on very hungry and just a bit stressed. The bus was fine, it took about 2 hours to get to Turin, crossing a dull, flat, rotting industrial region. My first impression of Turin was dirty and rough looking. The bus dropped me off at Corso Vittorio Emanuele which is a very long road cutting Turin from East to West. I hopped in a taxi and got to my hotel – the Art Olympic, by this time I was very hot. The hotel was in a quite nice residential area, at least it didn’t feel scary unlike some of the places the bus went through. I whacked the air con up high and went shopping in the supermarket – Bennet just across the road. I bought bread, ham, tomatoes, a small pack of butter, beer and water. Also a toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel (hotels was very pongy) and a shirt, shorts and pants! I took these back and stuffed myself. Then I had a shower, washed out the clothes I’d travelled in and fell asleep.
The hotel reception sold me a Turin card for €20, this gave me free travel and free entry to museums and attractions.
Woke up a bit better so got the 72 bus into city centre. Turin buses don’t give you any information so you either have to fathom the rotten free map from the hotel or guess where you are. Not like my public transport Mecca – Geneva! I got off a bit early at Porta Susa and then walked to Piazza Castello in search of a non existent gay cafe. Instead I found a science exhibition going on in the square. Lots of great statues.
Time for another meal so I located a small resto on a side street. I ordered salad and a 3 stagione pizza with ham, artichokes and mushrooms – it was enormous so I ate the filling and left most of the base. All washed down with a big glass of beer. I missed my bus so walked up to Porta Susa and caught the next one back. I rang Mel for Annie’s phone number as I’d entered it incorrectly into my phone. I rang her and we agreed to meet the next day. This was nice as I was feeling a bit rubbish without my suitcase especially as I’d packed my nice clothes for my holiday and didn’t want to lose them.
At this point I was too hot and didn’t really like Turin much. I hadn’t slowed my pace to theirs so was still racing around.
I saw a very old man putting a sheet on the pavement and preparing for bed.
Also a tally of 4 people with their arms in slings!

Royal Palace of Turin
Palazzo Madama
Palazzo Madama

Sunday 4th July
I got up about 7.30 and had my first shower. Breakfast was ok but not startlingly delicious – cereal and yoghurt, bread and butter. There was meat and cheese but it looked sweaty and there was a fly on the croissants so I didn’t go with any of those things. The coffee was out of a self service machine and was vile. Whilst getting ready to go out, the phone rang and it was reception to say that my bag had arrived – hooray. I went and collected it straight away. The zip which holds the whole suitcase together had been totally mangled by a conveyor and once I’d opened it up, it basically fell to bits, being only held in one piece by a plastic tag. I photographed it extensively for my insurance claim. Luckily there is a luggage shop across the street so I would be able to get a bag on Monday.
I managed to get a much better map of Turin from reception and headed off on the 72 back into town. Specifically to go to the museum of the Risorgimento (to see if there was any mention of Evasio Radice, my great great grandfather and a prominent figure) but the blasted place was shut for what looked like a major refurb. so no dice there. This was quite annoying as I’d looked it up before leaving and the web site had not and still does not mention the closure.
Determined to get some use out of my Turin card I headed next to the Alpine Museum, this was up a hill called Monte dei Cappucini. I looked in the church briefly as you were not allowed to go very far in. Had my home made sandwich lunch in the shade next to the church and then went into the museum where I spent a very happy couple of hours. There is a great vista from this little hill across a very long section of the Alps. You can really see what an enormous and majestic obstacle they are. 
I went back down and met up with Annie and Caroline just near the bridge, very nice to see them and we went for a drink by the river Po and caught up a bit.
We decided to go up the Mole Antonelliana tower, this ex synagogue also houses a film museum but we didn’t really have time to look at this. The lift is glass and is very small compared with the tower. It goes right up the middle and it goes up for a minute. This felt like a long time to be dangling in the middle of nothing and I can’t say I enjoyed the ride up. At the top the view across the city is great and you can see how huge Turin is. The descent was not so bad, better the devil you know. The city is laid out very well and there are just lots of enormous squares with huge public buildings in them and always a big statue of a bigwig – Vittorio Emanuele or Carlo Alberto etc. etc. There is also a lot of graffiti on the important buildings which is really depressing. They need to adopt a zero tolerance attitude and do some heavy policing about this and the endless crap on the streets, and so do we.
I went back to my hotel on the bus accompanied by I think a Romany accordion player with his one eyed wife. He seemed to be playing in a deliberately irritating way, eventually a big Italian mama got him to give up his seat for her as she waved her OAP card at him. This was really quite a bizarre incident and reminded me of that really annoying book about accordions by Annie Proulx! This however is a link to the best ever accordion playing by the sadly missed Danny Federici, I think this is the last time he played with the E Street Band.
Another shower and then more or less straight back out to meet A and C. They were in a hotel near the Porta Nuova station (biggest station in the city), however none of the buses went there! I got off at Porta Susa with the intention of hopping on the metro to get to Porta Nuova, however big signs in the metro saying to get the no.1 bus about which the bus stops had no information. As Porta Nuova was on Corso Vittorio Emanuele I asked the next bus driver if he went there, he said yes. What he didn’t say was that he didn’t stop so we whizzed past it and then of course the bus didn’t stop for ages. This gave me a hot 20 min fast walking detour to get to A and C. I passed the most enormous monument ever of Vittorio Emanuele, an absolute whopper!
We went to a small resto on a side street. I had jumbo spaghetti with sausage and mixed salad and beer and water. Not bad, more hefty portions. A and C walked some of the way to the bus stop with me. We had planned to check out the gay scene but we were all knackered and none of the locations we’d got listed showed up for real.
On my way to the bus stop I passed through Piazza Carlo Alberto which was very fine. The science expo was holding an outdoor public interview with some scientists on a big stage with big screens like a rock concert. Loads of people were listening to this.
As I got back to the hotel it rained a bit which was lovely. I had yet another shower.
Only 2 arms in slings today.

Alpine Museum
Mole Antonelliana

Museum of the Risorgimento
Piazza Carlo Alberto
Museum of the Risorgimento


Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.