WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH – THE TOUGH WILL TRAVEL
And so this writer heads for the hills of Switzerland and Italy
Copyright Vladimir Kagan, May 30, 2014
Where once shapely stewardesses helped while-away the dreary hours of the night, flight attendants of all ages, sizes, and gender have replaced them… Attractive is no longer the operative word.
Even Business Class is not much more than a cattle transport. Menus are pretentious: printed in oversized folios - the cuisine exquisitely described in florid language. In reality the fare is comparable to cafeteria food. The appetizer consists of a chopped salad; the main course is predictably over-cooked meats or pasta. Eloquent cheeses are a sliver of inconsequential blue and Swiss. …There is a plethora of stainless silverware, enough, to start a collection. With the return trip, you have collected enough for a setting of six.
Last year I moaned about Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic… this time my gripe goes to Swiss. Have you seen their advertising? If it’s Swiss it’s got to be good – or words to that effect. The A330 is a nice modern airplane designed with a minimum of flourish. In Economy they have squeezed eight seats across, in Business it is graciously only four. However, here is where my plaudit’s end. Seats are clustered into pods that are arranged in a checkerboard pattern. Alternating: one on the isle the other behind a cubicle-console. Those unfortunate to be located on the inside are obliged to slither through a 12” passage to their seat. Storage pockets, in the seat in front of you have been replaced with a useless niche for menus, a headset and perhaps a hairbrush. Under the seat storage has been usurped for the reclining chair to be able to open into a flat bed. The seats are narrow. The bed feels like a prison-cot.
Once you have slithered into your seat, there is a disappearing tray-table so efficiently concealed, you need a flight attendant to open it… a telephone handset with all the bells and whistles that provide the entertainment (I spent half the night trying to figure out how to log in and finally gave up in desperation. When you’re flying business you don’t want to appear stupid so you don’t call the flight attendant for help) Lights are turned off (not dimmed) all that’s left is a fiber-optic reading light and there were still five hours of flying to destination.
After a restless night of flying, we land in Geneva and are instantly whisked off by private jet to Pisa and from there to Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany, Italy. Forte dei Marmi, in season is a noisy, overcrowded watering hole on the Mediterranean. Aficionados like it at all times, but for us spoiled Nantucketers, the beach hardly matches our concept of a beach. Non-the-less in the off-season, there is not a soul there… it is ours alone and the hundreds of beach chairs are empty as a far as the eye can see. Naturally, the food is divine. Petra Santa, a small ancient town in the foothills of the Apian Alps is just a few kilometers away. It is where Carrara marble is quarried and Michelangelo sculpted his famous David. It is a magnet for artists, shoppers and foodies.
Our Victorian hotel has been carefully restored and sits in a lush setting of trees and shrubbery that are ready to burst into bloom. We are conscious of a European tradition: Each year, the plain-trees are given a poodle-cut! It’s called pollarding. New growth is carefully trimmed away in the fall; the branches are left barren with naked clusters of knobs, which burst into an umbrella of greenery each spring. In America we think it akin to docking a dog’s tail…cruel to animals and trees. I think these trees are elegant lining a street for mile upon mile. And then there are the tall pines trimmed of their new growth until they reach a height of fifty feet or more at which point they fan out into a sculptured parasol… In this paradisiacal setting we overcome our jet lag.
The Birthday Cake - Tanya with some of her great-grandchildren blowing out the candles
Tanya with her her older brother and her Italian daughter Vicki
Cathy,Tanya's artist daughter, horsing around with me
The Return to Geneva and Italy
Three days in paradise was hardly enough before being whisked back to Geneva. Geneva is old hat – my home away from home.
There is nothing jaded about Geneva - elegant turn-of-the-century architecture. A traditional Gate House to anold estate - now a public garden
A mile of pollarded trees along the Lake and the celebrated bronze horse overlooking the lake
....But life is full of surprises. A family friend decided to have a formal wedding in his bride’s ancestral home: Torino – seven year’s after their first marriage! For the second time in one week, we go to Italy! Five hundred miles round trip in one day! … It was fabulous, through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, under majestic snow covered mountains to a lovely garden wedding and a spectacular sunset in the Alps.
After driving 20 minutes in the longest tunnel in the world, we emerge in Italy
The bride and groom with their three children as flower girls and ring bearer
The mother of the bride with the bride's sister
the Family Mansion high above Torino
On our return drive we pass ancient monuments, architecture and spectacular scenery
A lone fortress Castle that guarded the steep passage along a gorge of the river flowing southward from the Alps to Torino and Milan
Ancient terraced vineyards cut into the steep face of the mountains on either side of the highway
Sunset as we approach the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Tunnel
There's more to come!
Next: Onward and upward to the Swiss Alps