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.