Travel Diary 1978 - Part 5 - Italy - France - Britain

European Destinations Then Back To United Kingdom

Not only a diary, some information hopefully imparted to assist travelers planning scenic regions, possibly ideas on how to reach their dreams when traveling.


Our trip was never going to be long enough to see everything, a good taste of what life is like in Northern region always hopeful to return to some places again one day....

21st September 1978 - Departing from Innsbruck after a most enjoyable stay, luck was on our side having booked the train for Venice the day before, train was full which we never anticipated.

Scenery all the way through the Brenner Pass afforded stunning views of the Dolomite mountains, electrified trains through the region made extremely comfortable travel.

In 1919, Italy acquired Trentino-South Tyrol under the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the Austro-Italian border moved to Brenner. The section from Trento/Trient to Brenner was subsequently electrified at 3,700 V at three-phase 16.7 Hz between 1929 and 1934.[6] Electrification was converted to 3,000 V DC on 30 May 1965. Source

Out the window tall pines, small villages glide by, through Alpine mountain tops covered in snow. Church steeples, people going about the business while you pass farming villages, waterfalls, rivers ever winding your way through another majestic region with hilltop fortresses coming into view.

Brennero we stopped for passport check, this entailed presenting your passport to authorities who board the train, normally took about half an hour. While border control took place, electric units changed to adapt to electricity, locomotive with local train drivers negotiating their terrain through the countryside.

On our way again with building architecture changing one realizes you are now entering Italy. Winding down the line from high altitude to flatter plains of Italy the wheels keep turning. Switched to another train at Verona to connect to Venice (if I remember correctly).

A little nostalgia leaving Northern Italy which offers much, time was not on our side, on my previous trip we stopped on the bus tour through the Dolomites to some spectacular views, going down to Lake Como quite some distance away, where my father was stationed at the end of WW11.

A full day of travel through gorgeous landscapes we arrived a little late at Venice Santa Lucia railway station. Direcly outside the station we picked up a bite to eat, pizza (Lira 2400) washed down with a glass of milk (Lira 600) plus surcharge of 19% (Lira 750) Lira 3750 sounded a lot, actually wasn't, you were looking at around ZAR3.96 each. Savouring a meal we soaked up the first sight of the Grand Canal before finding a water bus to take us onto the youth hostel.


The Grand Canal

Water bus No 5 took us to the Ostello Venezia on the Giudecca, an old granary conversion, short walk from the Zitelle vaporetto stop. After exploring before dark set in a lovely view across the water of St. Mark's and the basilica bell tower. Separate rooms for woman and men with clean ablutions on offer with a buffet breakfast.

Not much night life with hostels closing their doors relatively early, planned next day and slept making sure to be ready to tackle the day with vigor.

22nd September Up and out at 07h30 with two hours to explore, catching a water bus across to Marks Square right under the old clock to hear the 08h00 strike the hour.


Sunrise Venice


St. Marks Cathedral


The Rialto Bridge

After an enjoyable walk around the square took a water bus to the station via the Bridge of Sighs leading us to train station to catch the train to Florence.

Train journey we shared the compartment with an American and an Australian couple, all being similar age we did have some excellent discussions, both couples using expensive hotels they were amazed to learn about the hostel system.

Decided to walk to the youth hostel Ostello Europa along beautiful wide walks all the way, two and a half hours walk. Along the way we passed through the Piazza della Repubblica, so much history evident in the squares which we will have to read up about when back home.

After walking up tree lined roads we entered a most quaint old villa with spectacular gardens and views of the city lower down.

Tuscany region with grape vines all along the hills this 13th century monastery was converted into a youth hostel, we settled in to enjoy the building and gardens, followed by an amazing pasta dinner washed down a glass or two of red Chianti wine.

23rd September Walked to bus stop to go down into explore this fascinating city, most unusual sight was the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge spans the Arno river with shops and houses built on top of the bridge.


Ponte Vecchio - Florence Italy

Unable to enter the gardens being too early we managed to see the outside of the Florence Duomo also closed, then returned to the station to find train running 1 hour late to Rome. Explore the train station being Italian modern design completed in 1934 named Santa Maria Novella Station.


Florence Cathedral - The Duomo


Palazzo Vecchio.

Train managed to catch up half an hour lost time on the tracks, arriving in Rome around midday what a craziest city yet.... On arrival we had decided to book sleeper train from Rome to Paris, lost in language an Italian who spoke perfect English offering to assist us.

Station bookings were closed till 17h30, he offered to take us to the office in town, after a traumatic experience in parking lot we found the town office also closed. Chatting between holding ones breath in the chaotic driving/drivers, this elderly gentleman told us he was a POW in South Africa, loved our region and was treated well, perhaps was what had led him to assisting us.

He insisted to make sure we were settled into a better part of town to where the hostel was situated. Explained to us he never used his vehicle in the city, always parked near his closest station caught the train, then rented a vehicle at the city station. Bumps, dents and scrapes never posed a problem in Rome, with loads of hand gesturing obviously a word or two, they just carry on....

Signed into Hotel Jumbo slightly off the Via Veneto for two night stay, a fantastic 'pensione' this stranger had delivered us to, he attended to overseeing our stay, leaving with stern words of warning, not to drink the water anywhere except purchased bottled water (was only sold in glass those days), to be vigilant when sightseeing with pickpockets rife throughout. Leaving like the fatherly figure who had suddenly 'adopted' us, then made his way to attend to the business that had brought him to the city in the first place, a quick hug and gone.

This small hotel/pensione was one block up from the Grand Hotel, smart end of town in the Via Sardegna. A block away from part of ancient city wall with Porta Pinciana arch and Villa Borghese Park, within walking distance to most everything we wished to see whilst here.

Traveling we quickly learned to buy where locals frequent in numbers, look to see how popular places are before going in, we settled into a very comfortable eatery in the same road, where currency from around the world was pinned on the walls, yes we added a note onto the wall making the establishment very happy.

Once again we selected a local dish suggested by the chef with a bottle of wine from the region, dining out was extra special in the company of locals enjoying a night out on the town not having to be in by any set time.

24th September Spent the morning approaching St Peters Square, then went through St Peters Basillica which was busy with small groups worshipping we touched the holy foot on St Peters bronze statue (done thing).


St. Peters Square


Walked through Vatican Museums to explore the Sistine Chapel, absolutely no words can express how breathtaking this is, something one needs to see to believe.


Gardens below the windows well laid out as entertaining as the paintings above, lots to store in the volts of ones memory. Four hours later we stumbled out exceptionally hungry!


Spilling out into side streets we had an exceptional lunch before getting lost in side streets where we purchased one or two gifts to take home for family, in broken English we managed to get directions to Victor Emmanuel II Monument, Roman Ruins and Colosseum.



Loads of history, one thing is for certain the Colosseum leaves one amazed at size, a place with a weird uncomfortable aura in it, not like old ruins we had seen on our travels.


Outside the Victor Emmanuel 11 we met a street trader who recognized our accent, said he was a friend of the Schlesinger family (who knows), consequently Rob purchased a marble chariot for Lira 10 000 after bargaining down from Lira 18 000, now the laugh was how to get this home, solid weight to carry on the journey!


Victor Emmanuel 11

What a foot slogging day we had a beer before returning to drop the heavy statue at the pensione, Roman Chariot & Horses Statue Gladiator, possibly marble then took ourselves off for a walk along the old majestic Aurelian wall, onto Villa Borghese to marvel at the outdoor gardens. If only we knew the Spanish steps were so close, perhaps next time. Another wonderful meal and evening spent in Rome._

Roman Chariot.jpg

Victor Emmanuel 11 - Memorabilia Of Rome

25th September Went to the Wagon-Lits Company to book a (sleeper) couchette car on Rome to Paris Express "Palatino Express" to find the cost was Lira 40 000. This being the case we decided to rather sit all the way, other sleeping option was 4 berth at Lira 27 000 each, booked seated at Lira 18 000 each, with a few hours to spare stumbled upon a Mixed Wimpy Grill outlet for early brunch.

Tummies happy we ambled down to the station past a couple of fountains, including the familiar Trevi Fountain a lot seen in a couple of days. Fortunately arriving early at the platform with the train pulling in early we managed window seats with four others in the seated compartment who climbed off just before the Italian border.

Forewarned to be vigilant for people jumping onto trains hijacking then jumping off during night travel, we stretched out and managed a short peaceful sleep with two Frenchmen climbing onboard well into France.

26th Setpember 800 Miles (1 287.5 km) in seventeen and a half hours is quite something, arriving in Paris hungry! Never explore on an empty stomach ha ha, breakfast was an enormous sausage roll and beer... good kick-start to the day.

Found the underground Metro system to visit the Eiffel Tower, then off to Arc de Triomphe found a sidewalk cafe then sipped the largest beer in town (ZAR4,00 each) watching Paris on the move while we relaxed contemplating our next move.


Eiffel Tower


Beer Time.... There goes the Mini at top speed!


Arc de Triomphe

Palace of Versailles a bit off the beaten track we decided the next move to Amiens explore French country town, more appealing than staying in the city and spend the night.

Commanding attention, your eyes are drawn to the 13th century Amiens Cathedral the biggest in France in Gothic architecture, we headed to the Augerge de Jeunesse Youth Hostel located in green area close to Saint Leu district a colourful district, close to Saint Pierre park.


Amiens Cathedral

Amiens was battered through both world wars by either the British or Germans, the cathedral fortunately never hit by either war. Walking the park was delightful, seeing the old town one is struck how similar to Amsterdam or Venice, built on canals with gorgeous old buildings.

This may have been the poor side of town, it was filled with character, a most enjoyable walk exploring after dropping our luggage at the hostel, obtaining advice on where to go to get a good feel of this lovely town.

Afternoon coffee with Amien macarons made with almonds from region along the water was most relaxing, traditional meals served in hostels another highlight to enjoy.

27th September Monthly train pass was running out we needed to plan on making a move, we had to be back in England by the Friday to visit a bank before the weekend. 30th September train pass expired, with heavy heart we caught the train via Boulogne to Calais, another scenic two hour ride.

Relatively flat country with French towns slipping by the window, green pastures had time been on our side I would have enjoyed the hidden gems and histroy all along this part of the country, alas not to be.

Calais Sealink ferry to Folkestone in under two hours after boarding, after seeing the port meandered over to find the station with taking train to Dover where we were now familiar with stores and eating houses.

Short scenic railway line with white cliffs to one side and sea on the other, it was good to be back where we understand the spoken language.

Afternoon spent wondering around town buying a few requirements, by 16h30 starving we fell into the same eatery for an enormous dinner, don't think we could wait any longer, early patrons....

Arrived at "The Norman" Guest House, booking into Double Room in B&B at $8.00, situated in an old Victorian house situated opposite Dover Priory station, a few minutes walk into town.

Hooray for a bath, after a month on the continent it was a luxury to enjoy soaking in a bath tub, only showers on offer wherever we had been. Early to bed to move back up to London Town once again.

28th September Left Dover around 08h00 in rainy weather, an hour and a half later pulled into Victoria Station, then switched to underground for a further hour travel to West Hampstead, London arriving midday where our friends were renting top floor of whilst studying/working (our base camp).

Very neat town, situated with easy access, these Victorian and Edwardian domestic architecture buildings made very comfortable living, top floor had open out skylites to make the rooms feel larger and airy in terraced housing.

Went to visit friends in Fulham that evening taking a meal at The Kings Head Pub commuting above ground on the bus service gives a birds eye view when traveling through London.

29th September Spent the morning washing and ironing, had lunch then went up to Ye Olde Black Lion for a couple of drinks. Visited the bank to exchange to Brirish Pounds. Spent the afternoon relaxing when my sister and a friend phoned from South Africa, it lovely to hear from home.

Evening with friends, some we knew from home, friends family or new friends made staying in London, introduced/greeted, settled down listening to music and chatting about so many different topics that came to mind.

30th September Woke to a cold, wet, rainy day, spent the morning with our friends. Later went to Marble Arch to meet mother-in-law needing a little support on her first trip going to Holland to meet family, being a young child of three when she arrived in South Africa.

Hi-Lite of the day was trip to Art Deco Style Hammersmith Odeon to see the group Camel.

What a night on the town, like all things come to an end soaking in some sights we settled into a comfy bed and wait for what tomorrow brings.


Next part of journey we travel the United Kingdom renting a Kombi Camper for next leg of the trip.

Travel Diary 1978 - Part 1 - Planning
Travel Diary 1978 - Part 2 - Europe
Travel Diary 1978 - Part 3 - Germany - Denmark - Sweden - Norway
Travel Diary 1978 - Part 4 - Denmark - Germany - Switzerland - Austria

Photographs originally from film camera, converted in early 2000's to digital so please excuse the age, memories are wrapped up here!


Thought for Today: "To travel is to see, to return is to talk." - African Proverb




3 columns
2 columns
1 column