December 29, 2013


Yesterday in spite of dire warnings from the BBC promising the close down of Britain, I achieved my flight from Manchester to Heathrow on time, and from Heathrow to Milano Linate on time. we were coached to Cadenabbia on Lake Como in good time and by 15:00hrs I was enjoying a delicious thick hot chocolate in a bar near the hotel.

Today is Christmas eve, and unfortunately it has been very very wet and grey and dark all day - not good for photos, be warned.

We coached to the town of Como, about 40 minutes, and then had a brief guided tour and 2 hours free time. After that we took the Jet boat to Bellagio passing George Clooney's Villa.

Bellagio was wetter so we dived into a lakeside restuarant for lunch. After that I wandered up the steep steps to the main town, then back down and then back up and down. Very picturesque, but would have been even better with some sun.

The hotel may well have been the Grand Britannia Excelsior at one time, the Grand is somewhat faded in a rather charming way, the Excelsior has quietly diminished along with the plumbing, and all that remains is the 'Britannia' which is true - we have parties from Just You, Shearings, Leger and another British coach lot. My shower has not worked since I arrived but they promise to have fixed it now.

Just You has a small party on this tour of about 20, but I know three of them from previous hols. We are getting along fine.

This Blog on Como continues after a few photos

Some photos are given below, but the link given next takes you to the FULL album:


I know (from the BBC News), that the South of England (as if anywhere else actually existed in the British Isles) has had the worst rain since the time of the Dinosaurs - or so they would have us believe. But it has rained over our Lake too, all night long and very heavily. Our plans to walk around the Lake before lunch are washed away. Not sure what we will do this morning as no activities are organised.

Last night in the rain some of us went to the local Midnight Mass. although it was only just around the corner, the climb up and the continuous rain found one of the cute waiters doubling up as Transit driver and shuttling people up the hill to the Chiesa di Griante in lots of 8.

The service itself was held in a small domed Basilica where all were deafened by the sound of two industrial heat units hung from the balcony whose fans were clearly designed to pump hot air into a large industrial unit.

In front of the altar a motley collection of local children gathered clad in winter coats, their ages ranging from about 10 years to 18. They were shepherded by two female teachers who kept yanking the odd child into a new position, or separating one from another because of misbehaviour. It was clear that they were reluctant participants in the proceedings. A microphone was passed around them, sometimes working and sometimes not, and various recitations made. Then they started to sing, Adeste Fideles, at a pace much slower than I am used to, and at a different pace to that of the organ. Eventually some kind of order was obtained and both young singers and the organ more or less got on the same note at the same time; well they did when they remembered the words. Clearly no rehearsal had ever been made.

The children marched out and there was a pause for several minutes filled only with heating units giving voice to their task. Then the back doors opened and in filed the same children now garbed in surpluses and looking much more professional as they processed down the church ahead of the clergy. On the gallery above them the professional choir managed to cover the sound of the air con, although somebody did find a lower setting for it which was helpful.

With probably more than one third of the church filled with English from my hotel, the Priest COULD have made a little effort to include us; a hymn sheet in Italian would have helped us to join in. Anyway the service proceeded, the Organ often anticipating the its cue and those on the altar having to re-start or catch up.

A huge number of people on the altar ebbed and flowed, disappearing behind the altar before reappearing later. And at the least opportunity the 18 year old let rip with the incense and those on the altar gradually disappeared from view behind the sweet-smelling cloud of incense which started to irritate the congregation and cause coughing. With all this meaningless palaver it is no wonder that churches are empty. Nobody wants it, it is irrelevant, and time the Church embraced short punchy services for this millennium and not a bygone era.

I gave up after 40 minutes and walked down the steep and barely lit track to the lakeside with the rain largely in remission. And so to bed.

There are a few Christmas photos below. We have Christmas lunch at noon today, but nothing else is planned. However tomorrow is an early start as we go into Switzerland come back by train.

This Blog on Como continues after a few photos

Some photos are given below, but the link given next takes you to the FULL album:


Christmas Day. No activities planned, but on the Eve a group of us optimistically planned to take a walk along the lakeside on Christmas morn.

True to our word we gathered around ten and set off in the pouring rain. Immediately some confusion broke out and after 3 of us had dropped in on the little Mini Market, we found ourselves abandoned by the rest of the walking party, so I led our trio towards Turezzo(*). We walked along the side of the lake trying not to get splashed by the lake road traffic, and for a lot of the route we succeeded because the path was wide enough. The lake water immediately beneath the little guardrail was a dark slate blue, and its tormented surface was frequently pricked by solid shafts of the incessant rain. The town of Bellagio on the opposite bank was 'hatted' by small fluffy belts of clouds grasped by the towering hills above the town whose grip was irresistible.

The continuous rain, however, formed a veil in front of the far shore making everything indistinct. We weren't especially cold, and having expected nothing less than the weather that now happened, we continued our trudge towards Turrezo. This little habitation is pressed again towering hills on its back and drops into the 400 metre deep lake along its front edge. It is famous for being the source of that swearing disease which is almost fashionable now in Britain, at least on 'reality TV shows'. It was therefore no surprise when on entering a small bar/cafe that the greeting to us was "What the effing hell do you want?" Of course, to be understood properly by a sufferer from Tourette syndrome I must answer in like manner, "I want an effing hot chocolate you bag, and these two want some effing coffee, and merry bloody Christmas to you too."

The coffee was duly consumed and we paid, wishing each other a 'Fecking happy New Year' and then we trudged back to the hotel. On arriving, everything we wore had to be discarded and given up to the room heating to dry. Then we changed for Christmas lunch and at noon we queued past the massed ranks of the hotel staff who in full Christmas gear formed a guard of honour at the entrance to the dining hall. The meal itself was EIGHT courses - there might be a copy of the menu attached. It was stuffing. Other meals in the hotel had been self-service buffets, but Christmas dinner was waitered and the young band of helpers got out 400 covers for 8 courses, attended to drinks requests, and brought us all a present from Santa, in my case a nice tie. Well done.

The meal finished at 16:00hrs, and we reconvene at 19:00hrs for more food, oh dear. The photos below include a 'selfie' (well if Cameron can do it so can Simon), some Just Youers, and the presentation of the Turkeys.

(* We didn't really go to Turezzo, our coffee was politely taken in Tremezzo.)

This Blog on Como continues after a few photos

Some photos are given below, but the link given next takes you to the FULL album:


All the coaches from our hotel were scheduled to cross the border and visit the Swiss resort of St Moritz today, which would involve a trip on the Bernina Express train on one leg of the journey. For some reason we left at 07:00 whereas Shearings and Leger set their departure for 08:30.

So the alarm raised me at 05:30 and after a hasty cold breakfast at 06:30 we were all onboard the coach and travelling North by 07:00. At 08:30 Marius our Romanian guide work us from our slumber. The Bernina Express would not be running when we reached Tirano. The rain that had fallen continuously since we arrived and had been particularly heavy through the last 24 hours had fallen in the mountains as deep snow. Consequently all the road passes were closed and even if we reached St Moritz our planned return by road was out of the question. However, our plans to board the first Bernina Express of the day would fail because that line was also closed by deep snow AND power failure owing to snow on the power lines.

We paused at Tirano, but too early for the railway information office. Marius was told that all the other coaches had decided to o cancel this trip and head instead to Milano even though this had already been on their itinerary. Milano was only an option for them because they had not yet left the hotel, but we had travelled 90 minutes north away from Milano.

Marius decided that St Moritz might be possible later although it did seem unlikely; he decided to drive out of Tirano to Bormio whilst we wait for news. As we closed in on Bormio the incessant rain turned WHITE; Bormio is a World Cup Ski resort. Suddenly the idea came to take the cable cars to Bormio 2000 and we eagerly accepted this.

Very quickly we are in the cafe at 1952 metres amongst all the Boxing Day skiers and snow boarders. Impressive. 3 of our number opted to take an hour on the nursery slopes whilst the rest of us cafe'ed or photographed snow. The snow fell heavily, rescue skidoos went out to retrieve casualties (none of us) and we all enjoyed respite from the rain.

We were asked to return down to the town by 12:00 and then the coach retreated us to Tirano. We didn't need lunch because the hotel had provided us each with a packed meal. By the time we arrived Marius had engaged a road train to tour us around Tirano. But this was a much longer circuit than the standard route and we had stops to take photos, visit attractions and visit a bar. A tailored tour. Even in the rain Tirano showed itself to be very scenic and the centre storico was very interesting.

We left Tirano around 15:45 hours but making an unscheduled stop at an emporium to purchase local wines, meats and cheeses. No really, this was not a stop contrived by our Guide in return for a a back-hander; we asked for this stop. Marius informed us that he never visited Bormio and had never toured the sites in Tirano. Every thing had been arranged on the fly and for the first time. Well done.

Not the day that was intended but very enjoyable and no complaints from anyone. I got snow on my boots and got to chat up several ski boys (see final photo). Great Day.

On returning to the hotel we had our delayed 'welcome drink' with good Prosecco, and then after the meal we were Transited up to the local pub. Good Company. Tomorrow return to UK.

This Blog on Como continues after a few photos

Some photos are given below, but the link given next takes you to the FULL album:


In my last Blog I cut short details of our final evening and I feel the need to expand on those hours before closing this account of Christmas on Lake Como.

The Grand Hotel Britannia Excelsior had free WiFi, but this was limited to one rather small salon outside the lift shafts. Here people shouted into their Ipads to exchange Christmas Greetings. “Hello dear, Granny and Granpa here in Como, did you have a good Christmas?” At the other end a reluctant child utters the well rehearsed, “Yes, thank you Granny, and are you enjoying Italy?” The child is quickly gone, returned to her bedroom to watch some X-rated film that her parents neither know nor care about. Granny is left to shout into her screen at the girl's parents, “Did Brook like the little Donkey we sent her? We thought it would be good to keep her jewellery on.” Little did they realise that little Brook is now 15, and has so many bangles, earrings and other bits that they just get piled up in a mess anywhere in her bedroom. Furthermore, brother Jayden enjoyed feeding the stuffed donkey to 'Teddy' the Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross, who chewed on all the polyester stuffing before barfing it up on the fluffy rug in the conservatory.

I couldn't compete with all that distraction and so sat quietly sending written communications on my phone or laptop. That is until a family opposite me interrupted my tranquil typing with their son uttering the immortal greeting, “You look like someone from Mrs Brown's Boys.” I looked up to see a blonde-haired lad some 40 or 50 years younger than anyone else in the hotel; he was smiling at me and obviously looking for some reaction. “Which one?” I asked, “The one who dresses up as a Chicken or a Banana, or maybe the Priest?” Unhesitating J replied, “The Gay One!” Hmmmm. I didn't know whether to make some reply expressing shock, or simply ask for his phone number.

Anyway, with the ice well and truly broken, or more accurately vapourised, there began a series of contacts with this family from Windsor, the mother and the son working at a well known school of that parish. Very entertaining. They too were ipadding, but weren't shouting into their devices, and we met a few times within this electronic sanctuary over several days.

J is employed as a sports coach, with practice in almost every sport you could think of, so I knew on Boxing Day evening that he would be quite jealous of our skiing experience after his lot had endured a wet day in Milano. I quickly showed him all the pictures, assured him that I had been given the phone numbers of the good looking skiers, and illustrated clearly the ideal wintry conditions we had enjoyed at almost 2000 metres. His family were shocked that they had suffered a soggy city sortie when they could have had a brilliant Boxing Day at Bormio.

When I joined my party for the Boxing Day evening meal, a rather dapper guy walked past my table and he was one of the Shearing guides. I felt a duty to inform him about our brilliant day in Bormio, and was only doing this in a matter-of-fact informative way. Unbeknown to me, from the far end of the table our guide Marius was watching, and when I finished he applauded my efforts and my colleagues said I should be awarded the order of the Wooden Spoon for stirring.

Things escalated the next day when J's family accosted one of the Shearings' drivers about the winter wonderland they could have enjoyed like us. He was quite defensive, Health and Safety this, regulation that. I merely countered by saying that our guide Marius had been thinking on his feet all day, conjuring up several different things and keeping us more than amused; our unscheduled skiing was almost better than the St. Moritz might have been. He called me a 'shit stirrer', but J's family were not taken in by his 'company line'. I told Marius later that one of the Shearings' guides wanted an application form to join Just You; though I doubted that he would have quite the required creativity and imagination.

Friday morning was a brilliant sunny day, and at last we could enjoy some views across the lake, and even promenade along its shores to Menaggio a little place just north of us. Before long we were on-board our coach bound for Milano Linate, and thence to London Heathrow. Hazel asked me to join her in the Executive Lounge as her guest, and I enjoyed the tranquillity and the free food of this refuge from the hub bub of the airport seating; thank you. At Heathrow there was no such escape from the proletarian parlours, but I did enjoy a colossal Vegetarian breakfast at Huxleys which at £8.25 took me away from the masses for nearly an hour. In spite of dire weather warnings, the flight to Manchester took off and landed on time, and my drive across the Pennines was uneventful.

Best Wishes for 2014.

Some photos are given below, but the link given next takes you to the FULL album:

If you want to read about Christmas 2010, click on this link: the Coach Trip from Hell 2010