Friday, October 30, 2015

The Lake Como Holiday

As it was inconceivable to fly all the way to London for the Cliff Richard anniversary concert and return home immediately I Google for ideas how to spend at least a week more to enjoy both England and Europe. By chance I stumbled upon Riviera Travel, a UK based travel agency specialising in high quality escorted European & Worldwide tours and river cruises. After comparing several options and taking into considerations factors of time, timing and interest, I chose a package that is not only novel but new to me and my wife, places we didn't travel to in our previous tours of Europe. That's how I decided on the Lake Como, Bernina Express, St Moritz Holiday. For this tour I have the privilege and companionship of a long time classmate and his wife who decided to fly on their own into Milan, Italy, to join the tour group, and at the end fly home on their own.

The Lake Como tour started on October 16. For us and other tour members from the UK, we flew out of London Heathrow and others from Gatwick or Dublin airports to join up at Milan Malpensa and Linate airports. My wife and I took the 7.50am flight on BA572 out of Heathrow. We were met at the Malpensa airport by an Italian tour guide speaking in hesitant English and leading some 15 of us into a waiting coach which drove us over the next hour and half into our hotel, Grand Hotel Cadenabbia, by the bank of Lake Como. All the other tour members were British couples about our age or older. Along the drive the tour guide who went by the name Analisa tried to narrate the places we are passing through. But I was more interested in the wondrous sights of the houses and the shimmering lake and distant hills. I've brought along my Canon Powershot S100 and a 32Gb microSD card to store photos and videoclips I plan to take as many as I could on this holiday. My back up was my smartphone camera.

Upon arrival at the hotel we were given our room key and no further instructions. Analisa left us but where was our tour manager? All of us felt lost and unsure. While we know lunches are not in the package we were not told how we can get lunch as it was lunchtime when we got to the hotel. Speaking no Italian we decided to skip a meal and wait for dinner which was on the itinerary.

Grand Hotel Cadenabbia is 'grand' in the sense of being 'old' not 6-star. The facilities are old but well maintained. There's just one reception desk with one staff handling a group arrival which I thought was inadequate. But this is Europe and it appear to be no rush. In an Asian tour the whole group of 30-40 tourists would huddled with their luggages waiting for their tour leader to get all the room keys and distribute them with instructions on wake up call, breakfast and departure time. Our room was basic with a double twin bed joined to look like king size. Shortly after we checked in our friend and his wife arrived from Milan. We meet up during dinner time.

Over the next 7 days we visited the Villa del Balbianello and Bellagio nearby, Bergamo, Bernina Express to St Moritz, Lake Maggiore and Isola Bella island, a free day to explore Como, and finally to Lugano, a Swiss town by Lake Lugano across the border. I'll cover them in the following blogs.

The Cliff Richard 75th Birthday Tour Concert

I got to watch my favorite pop idol, Sir Cliff Richard, perform live on October 14, 2015 at the Royal Albert Hall, London. After booking our tickets last November my good friend and I with our spouses checked into the Comfort Inn Hyde Park which is very close to the concert hall on October 13 after a smooth flight on SQ318. For the concert we decided to go for good seats since this may be the last opportunity we will see Cliff perform live. Optimistic as he is, Cliff seldom make predictions as to which will be his last concert. Over his entire singing career he appeared in no less than 5000 stage shows firstly in England, then thrilling his fans in the United States, then Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and the Far East alone with his back up singers and dance troupe, and with his favorite musical group, the Shadows, and sometimes with guest singers. Cliff was indefatigable and thoroughly enjoyed his singing while engaging with his fans in between songs. Cliff danced and pranced on stage even till his 60s. However at his 75th birthday show we missed his dance troupe and his dance movements. I couldn't expect him to be as physically active as he was 5 years ago when he performed at his Bold As Brass concert at the same Royal Albert Hall. But his flair and ability to hit high notes are retained.

We arrived early at the concert hall in a London cab, collected our tickets from the Box Office and proceeded to door 5 where we were ushered into the Heineken Green Room reserved for VIP guests who paid a premium price for stall seats. We had pre-show drinks and light food before we took our seats at 6.45pm to wait for Cliff to come on stage at 7.00pm. As I surveyed the crowd milling into the hall I can't help noticing most of them were older ladies. Obviously Cliff still have a large female followings. The lady who sat next to me, who identified herself as Maxine, confessed this was her 6th attendance. She was indeed a very loyal fan. The Royal Albert Hall was packed full that night which coincidentally was the night Cliff celebrated his birthday in public. We were indeed fortunate to choose this particular show. However, to my disappointment, Cliff didn't make an appearance at the VIP room to say 'Hi' to us. If he did I would have unashamedly asked for a picture with him for remembrance. That was the only downside to this memorable event which brought me to London. The show ended at 10.30pm and we spent some time hailing a cab to bring us back to the Inn.

Here are a few memories of this once-a-lifetime show.


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