A very early start today. An alarm for 3:45am, taxi for 4:50am to meet our first transport by 5:20am. Hell’s teeth! The sun hadn’t even risen!
Everything went very well for us, all through the journey, but the events surrounding us… a clear reminder that the Gods of Travel have been dormant for 30 months and have lots of tricks in store for those who don’t pay attention.
The taxi arrived a little ahead of time and drove cautiously to the motorway through some of the thickest fog patches seen in ages. Not a problem as the mini-bus to transfer us to Bristol was waiting patiently. Our next pick-up was to be at Cardiff’s National. Museum, and there the fun began. We arrived there around 5:25am (we’d left our stop early) for a 5:45am departure. As 5:45 came and went, the driver was slightly flummoxed. Who doesn’t turn up for their holiday?
He went the extra mile and drove around the area in case, perhaps, the lady was waiting on the wrong side of the building and about ½ mile to the location of the company’s once used pick-up location. Nope! Back to the museum and a phone call to base. “Wait 15 more minutes and then you’ll have to go.” We left,, occupants unchanged, at 6:05am.
An uneventful pick-up in Newport and straightforward journey to Bristol to meet our tour coach. Simple.
At 7:30am (planned departure) the courier told us that the Cardiff Museum lady was on her way and should be with us by 8am. It came and went… the lady still hadn’t arrived. We had come and went. Was this person a figment of a computer’s imagination?
We comfort stopped at a service area after about an hour and, joy of joys (for her anyway!) the missing lady was missing no more.
The comparatively gentle journey to Folkestone/Dover, apart from the inevitable Easter traffic jams was the opportunity for Locatorgate to occupy our attention.
Do people carefully examine their paperwork? Do pigs fly?
France has lifted all COVID travel rules. Italy has not. You need a Digital Passenger Locator Form (dPLF) to get in. The form was originally an EU wide requirement, and so was probably designed in Brussels, written in Latvian and then translated into English by a German who still hadn’t forgiven the UK for Brexit. However, we’d persevered a few days prior and had completed it (online only available). Our treasured QR codes were both on paper and on our phones.
Not so most other people going to various Italian destinations and mild panic set in when the courier pointed out that they were in Italian law and entry could be refused at the Italian-French Border. It was tough to complete this 5 page document on a laptop, with plenty of time and a cup of coffee. Try it on a coach using a phone in a slight panic.
At least we had a chance to learn that our couriers for the trip (Ian & Mel) were kindly individuals (as I would have strangled one or two people). All they did was serve drinks and offer advice & guidance!
We arrived at the Interchange (Stop-24, Folkestone) around 12:30pm.
Stop-24 hadn’t changed a bit. Still a clean barn of a place with fast food outlets and not enough tables and chairs. Good enough, though. We were told the interchange would be around an hour. “Sod that!” said the Travel God of roads, who decide to trap two incoming coaches on the Dartford Crossing (M25 - a car park on the best of days!). They were delayed for at least 90 minutes stalling the whole interchange process. We stood outside in the sunshine, letting it flow past us.
Eurotunnel trains are by far the best way across the channel. We anticipated problems because of our tardy arrival and reports of chaos in cross-Channel services. Nope. Transport systems as smooth as clockwork.
Not so French Borders and Customs.
We were taken to the Passport Control for coaches. Everyone off the coach, all our carefully gathered paperwork to hand. Approach the window. Not interested. A cheery Bonjour, a cursory glance at the passport, scanned, done, 30 seconds. Too easy? Yes.
We go smoothy through UK Borders although the coach is inspected (in clear view of French Customs’ Agents).
We then reach French (EU) Border control. They’d like to inspect the coach too. Oh, and by the way, they’d like to do passport control a 2nd time. An exact re-run. Except this time were rewarded by a stamp on our passports (you know… how a 10 year-old feels when their maths gets a gold sticker!)
However, from there on in everything went smoothly. We arrived in Reims around 8:30pm. The Mercure is a good standard 3-starish business hotel with decent rooms and arty-farty decor.
A reasonable start time tomorrow, considering the distance to the South Coast (8am).
We set off cheerfully just after 8am having enjoyed a good night’s sleep and an excellent breakfast.
However, not long into the journey, Locator-gate was superseded by Mask-gate. Not that all the dPLFs had been completed by any means. But a new unread part of the rules was revealed. “In Italy, thou shalt wear FFP2/N95 masks in all indoor settings and need thy digital NHS QR code (as a substitute for the EU’s green pass) to enter many buildings e.g. restaurants”. No, simple Type 11R surgical masks are not flavour of the day.
“How many of you have FFP2 masks with you?” asked the courier, hopefully. Six hands went up (including ours).
“Oh!” said he, with a worried look. “How many have surgical masks, even if they’re no use?” Just another 6 hands. So twelve (12) people had brought no masks at all.
Much discussion concluded that the courier would search out places to buy masks when we entered Italy. Problem kicked into touch for now.
So our 12 hour, 614 mile journey continued uneventfully. Boring French farmland. Beautiful Alpine scenery. Several comfort and meal stops. These coaches are so comfortable it was actually very enjoyable.
We’d forgotten… We were going to Italy. All rules and regulations are flexible and subject to local foibles. A shrug fixes anything!
We reached the border, vaccination proofs and dPLFs to hand. Nothing! Not so much as a Border Official in sight. It’s Easter Sunday; it’s a National Holiday. Why go upsetting the festive mood with mere regulations? A policeman, met at the next service stop, told our courier they were happy with T11R surgical masks except in hospitals. Local Italian flexibility?
We arrived at the hotel “Delle Mimosa” around 8:45pm.
Now those who know me well, know how easily I’m impressed. You’re right. It’s near impossible! Well… I am impressed!
The room (for Italy) is well equipped. Loads of space, a good, well equipped bathroom and an outside terrace (ground floor room) with lots of space and comfortable chairs.
And then… The Restaurant. We had concerns. It’s an all-inclusive deal which, to us, says, “Take it or leave it”.
It’s late. It’s Day 1. The manager has a microphone and greets us. “It’s a semi-set menu tonight, but if you’re not keen on the options, ask and they’ll do something else.” On our table for 2, before we even start: Two bottle of wine, local good quality red and white. Local EV olive oil. Very good standard Moderna balsamic vinegar. Bread sticks. Bread rolls.
Waiters appear doing “Silver Service”. “Would you like minestrone soup or pasta?” We both chose pasta and were served a large bowl of some of the best pasta (in a creamy sauce) ever eaten. Next we’re told that chef has prepared a few local speciality salad items “if we’d like to select them, buffet style”. OMG, were they good, or what?
Between courses, two charming young ladies appeared to discuss tomorrow’s menu and the packed lunch for our excursion. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s dinner already!
The waiters then re-appear with a superb chicken breast in a lemony coating and accompaniments. Delicious! To top it all, desserts on offer were quite exciting. I chose a pannacota with salted caramel topping. Wow!!!
To round it off, I went to the bar for a grappa. The very attentive young lady offered a selection and my random choice was brilliant.
Exceeding expectations? By light years!
I’m not sure how the rest of this tour is going to keep up the standards set by the hotel. Time will tell, but I’m feeling confident!
A beautiful warm and sunny day took us back over the French border.
First a visit to Èze, home to an allegedly famous perfumier, Fragonade. Never heard of them? Neither had we! However a 1¼ hour drive along the high corniche A8 had provided lovely scenery to admire. The Èze factory (a public holiday) was not in production and so the tour was somewhat pointless. The shop was (surprisingly?) open. I tried a male cologne. We had a cat that smelt better!
The medieval old town was on a cliff top and whilst totally “medieval” was also a cardiac event inducing climb away from base camp. Having said that, the sun was out, the scenery delightful and so different to that of the past 30 months. Nothing important to complain about!
We then travelled down to Nice, home to the rich and wannabe famous, The first thing that was apparent was that Covid does not enter the thoughts of les Français. It was crowded and social distancing was a distant memory. A good thing IMO. We began to feel normal again. Life has moved on and through the pandemic. Time for us to do the same.
We took the “Noddy Train” for a drive through the town to the Castle area. Spectacular views and an area worthy of a ½ day, although we were given a generous 10 minutes to explore. There didn’t seem to be any other transportation to get there, and on foot, it made Èze seem almost flat and level.
We strolled along the Promenade des Anglaise enjoying the sun and seascape. Cafés on the beach, sun loungers and a lovely seaside atmosphere. Additionally, because Nice Airport has its runways built out into the sea, aircraft spotting was an unexpected bonus. About one flight every 2 minutes or so.
Dinner at the hotel was once again exceptional, although after dinner they “provided” a singer with canned backing tapes for dancing. In many jurisdictions, murdering songs like this, would have been a criminal offence.
Tomorrow is market day in Diano. A bit of local colour to look forward to.
The weather’s a bit cloudy today, and it’s the “rest day”. It’s also Market Day here, so we took our first opportunity to take a look at the town.
The market was bustling and was much like any such market anywhere. Some good stuff, some unusual and a fair quantity of cheap-ish junk. We enjoy looking around them and it was yet another experience of normal life returning.
We also discovered that Diano Marina has a decent amount to offer visitors. Several pedestrianised streets with shopping and a plethora of pavement cafés. Many of the streets are lined with orange trees, in fruit at this time of year.
It has a small marina and a wide promenade with a park separating it from the road. Delightful!
We decided to stroll back down to town (around 5 minutes from the hotel) in the afternoon to see it again without the market stalls. It looked even better. Being such a short, almost traffic free, distance from the hotel, we’re certain to go back there several more times
We had lunch in the hotel. Even at lunch the portions are large and the cooking perfect. Lord knows how much weight we’ll put on, especially as the bar’s free and the wine flows like water. Oh dear, what a shame, never mind!
To our surprise and joy, the weather defied the forecast. Although most of the time it was overcast, the Sun did make an appearance and the 91% chance of rain never materialised.
Our excursion today was along the coast, via Genoa to Portofino, boarding a ferry at Santa Margherita Ligure. Portofino has been on our bucket list of European destinations for a while. We’d never heard of Santa Margherita Ligure, but it turned out to be a nice enough place to visit.
Both places were picturesque and delightful to stroll around, although, frankly, Portofino has marketed itself beyond its reality. It is very pretty, but not more so than, say, Burano in the Venice lagoon, which is far less pretentious. A port-of-call for those who don’t mind paying €10 for a smallish beer and the joy of looking across a harbour. (The next day we spoke to a fellow traveller who’d paid €50 for 2 glasses of average red wine!!!!!)
These towns both had spectacular churches, overflowing with gold altarpieces, marble floors & pillars and beautiful artworks.
Overall, we had a great day out and, once again, enjoyed the opportunity to see sights before unseen, and continue returning to a sense of normality.
Dinner at the hotel? Again a culinary masterclass!
Back over the French border today, and once again, at least for the morning, the weather defied the forecast.
Saint Paul de Vence is a beautiful medieval village atop a cliff. For years it has been the home for poets and artists and its narrow alleyways are choc-full of galleries and studios. Even I, as a card carrying philistine, felt much of the art on show (and for sale) was truly beautiful. Very modern and very joyful. If we had an oligarch size balance and the right property, we would be arranging delivery from several galleries.
The village has superb views across the valley to the mountains and sea beyond. We spent an all too short morning exploring and admiring.
Unfortunately, sadly, not so Cannes. It fails, at every level, to show the elegance and style its film festival image suggests. Noisy, untidy and generally tacky. On reflection, we felt, if you arrived with that oligarch’s bank account, it may well have shown a different face. However, after a short time, we bumped into some new friends from our tour and enjoyed a few hours of good conversation in a pavement café.
To add insult to injury, the weather took a nasty turn mid-afternoon, becoming cool and windy with a hint of rain.
Dinner at the hotel? I’ve run out of superlatives to describe the food here!
We’re taking a day-off tomorrow, whilst most fellow travellers are off to Monte Carlo. Been there. It’s a “visit once to say you’ve seen it” destination, unless, of course, you are the aforementioned oligarch!
A quiet day today, doing nothing much at all.
Strolling around the town, looking in shops and buying a couple of items. Walking along the sea front, enjoying the fresh air. All along the beach there were several “private” sections with loungers, umbrellas at quite fair prices; around £25 a day for 2 loungers, umbrella and private cabin for changing. Less per day if hired for several days. Beach snacks and drinks service too. Could be lots of worse ways to pass the time during summer.
Lunch at the hotel… More of the same generous deliciousness, to be repeated again at dinner!
We start the journey home tomorrow, leaving around 7:30am.
23 April 2022
Twelve and a half hours, even on luxurious coach, is still no joke, which included around 2 hours for breaks and food. The scenery moved from scenic Italian Alps via very long tunnels (e.g. Fréjus is around 13km, 8miles) to boring French countryside. It rained most of the way which further enhanced the fallow fields of France!
We’re at the Mercure, Reims again tonight, leaving at 7:45am. Apart from that, nothing of note happened!
24 April 2022
A very straightforward trip to Le Shuttle at The Channel Tunnel. Lots of petty bureaucracy at French borders. For the first time, ever, anywhere, they exit-stamped our passports, cancelling the entry stamp. Vive La France! UK border was a bit less officious, but still did a full passport scan. On and off the coach like yo-yos!
We made it onto an earlier shuttle, as did all the Leger tours, and so all the interchange formalities in Dover were done & dusted by 1pm. The final outcome was that we arrived home by 7:00pm, 2 hours ahead of schedule.
This was a one of the best coach holidays we’ve had. A brilliant hotel. An exceptional, friendly and effective coach crew. A super location base and really good excursions. And, of course, a break from COVID; a sense that normality is both possible and safe enough to be confident.