Wednesday, 2 September 2015


2nd - 3rd Sept 2015

Mulhouse Town Hall

It would never normally have occurred to me to visit Mulhouse, near the French/Swiss border. After wandering around the place for a couple of hours before out next train was due to leave (at 10.19am) I discovered it to be a most delightful place. Splendid cafes, picturesque cobbly streets and clean and welcoming. Lots of boats on the canal, smart tram network and an elegant railway station.

Left: The railway station at Mulhouse.

Following on from yesterday I learnt that the lady casevaced home had been escorted by her 'partner'. That leaves 25 of us, not including Adrian our flamboyant guide who, this morning, appeared wearing a shiny pink jacket and floral shirt. He has a quiff. Give him his due, amongst all his floppy gesticulations he does give a good briefing on the plans for the day. He knows his stuff and is most popular, especially with the ladies, for insisting everyone shouts a loud 'bonjour' in response to his greeting. You get the picture.

Human beings come in all shapes and sizes but I have never before seen anyone with a figure quite like this (right), spotted on his way to the post office. He was perfectly normally built other than carrying the mother of all beer bellys. Not one of our group, I hasten to add. I wondered how he did up his shoe laces....which is probably why he is wearing flip-flops.

Next onto a commuter train to Basel. So far all these trains have been immaculate, uncrowded, smack on time and fast. Plenty of space and luggage room.

Left: the commuter train interior.

From Basel we hopped onto another fast train to Bern. It was here that we nearly suffered our next casualty. One of our party, a rather mature gent who was using a walking stick, got it stuck in the carriage door just as it was closing. He was inside, his bag outside and his stick in between. There was quite a struggle amid much pushing and shoving and blowing of whistles. Thanks to several helpers he survived this ordeal unscathed. I wonder what will strike whom next. I don't envy any travel guide/manager their job.

Coming into Bern the railway crosses the river Aare. In what I now realise is a common tour tradition, any such event calls for some form of group participation. The indefatigable Adrian trilled out "we are now crossing the river Aare". Everyone was expected to respond, and did (with the possible exception of grumpy old Uncle Matt) with a loud "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh". How amusing.

Another train change at Bern for a quite spectacular high speed run over and at many points through (lots of long tunnels.....impressive engineering) the mountains to Milan. Onto yet another train onwards to Florence (more long tunnels) and finally a 45 minute bus trip to our destination, Montecatini.

Right: Passing a bit of Lake Maggiore between Bern and Milan.

No delays, no further casualties (25 still standing), no incidents and we were sitting down to another rather good dinner in the smart Hotel Francia & Quirinale at 8.45pm. Having said that we sit at 'group' tables which can be a bit of a trial especially if, as I was, sitting next to someone called Bob whose specialist subject is 'World War 2 weapons systems 1939 -45'. Trapped next to him I was regaled for most of the meal by myriad details of the German V bomb system. The other somewhat tedious 'procedure', I discovered, is for everyone to introduce themselves and then challenge you to remember their names at the next meal. They also express undue curiosity as to where you come from and what you do, or did, for a living. I really put my foot in it here. Not wishing to be interrogated further, and no answer was not an option, I told them I was a retired poultry farmer from Essex. I don't know what came over me. I know bugger all about either poultry or Essex. Now having to look up 'chickens' and 'Essex' on the internet to maintain some form of credibility. My 'companions' are obviously experienced 'group' travellers who know the form while I am definitely a novice...and I think I will make every effort to remain so.

Off to explore the delights of Florence tomorrow. 

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