Tag: Switzerland

Alpine Mediterranean Loop: Part 2

Day 3

We checked out of the hotel in the morning and paid one more visit to the Marseille harbor to see the St. Jean fort (under construction, so just a walk by), then to the Cathedral. Along the way we stopped by a quaint French cafe for breakfast that was just right. The Cathedral also sported the striped stone building construction, and inside was quite lovely. I swung by a candy shop on the way back to the car (it couldn’t be helped), and then we hit the road for Monaco.


The scenery was magnificent! I had not realized that Monaco is its own country because it’s a virtually impenetrable piece of France literally a part of the mountains along the Azure Coast. We drove through a long downward-winding tunnel and roadway catching snippets of incredible scenery as we entered Monte Carlo. Monaco is the second smallest country in the world with Monte Carlo the only city (not even) fitting inside its mile length. After a considerable amount of time zig zagging through the expensive looking buildings, Herr finally found a parking ramp. We proceeded in the direction of the coast and left Herr’s friend at the pebble beach while we caught a taxi up to the Aquarium. The building was lovely, but it was very crowded and small; unique though, with a giant octopus hanging from the ceiling in the main foyer and a second museum with the recently added royal wedding outfits. Jean Jacques Cousteau was once the director, too, which might explain the giant squid/octopus thing.

Monaco.Sea horses.Clown fish.Lion fish.Fish.

When we finally squeezed out of the building we didn’t have enough time to tour the Prince’s Palace, so we hopped a mini tour train to get back to the beach. It stopped at the casino, one of the well-known landmarks if ever you heard of Monaco or Monte Carlo, then walked the waterfront stopping for ice cream a few times along the way. Herr and I waded in the Mediterranean for a short time (just as salty in this part of the Med) before we jumped back in the car, promptly got lost in Nice, then passed out when we finally made it to the hotel (or at least I did soon after we ate).

Day 4

The epic driving day. We started off at a decent hour following the main route parallel to the Azure Coast, which alternated between tunnels and bridges over large valleys with the sea on our right. It was a very scenic drive (aside from the tunnels), but I was finding it difficult to do homework (sad, I know, but it was due). I gave it up shortly after. Right before reaching Genoa, we turned north, got lost (and a bit frustrated) in Turin, then found the Alps. What a sight! Admittedly, I was bouncing around in the backseat with the camera, going from window to window trying to capture it all. Herr finally pulled over in the town of Hone, where we had some tasty Italian food (honestly, every time I get a calzone in Italy it’s nearly the size of my torso… it became my lunch the next day as well). We took some backroads for a while before jumping back on the route for the St. Bernard Tunnel, one of the longest road tunnels in the world. Cost a bit of money to get through as well, just FYI.

Hone fort.

Switzerland was one big traffic jam, then Germany was one big rain storm. We were quite grumpy by the time we returned having lost an hour driving “through” Turin, an hour in traffic, an hour driving slowly in sometimes torrential rains, and we did stop for lunch too… we had one night to recuperate before jumping back in the car the next morning for the Czech Republic.

Alpine Mediterranean Loop: Part 1

Herr had an acquaintance request a whirlwind tour of Europe. We learned several lessons from this (the biggest being we aren’t travel agents, so bring your own plans if you come to visit), but we went through a lot of countries doing it.

Day 1

Because of a sudden car issue, we picked up a rental car and made our way south stopping in Geneva, Switzerland for a two hour break halfway through our way to Marseille, France. We found the lakefront, walking across the many bridges towards the water fountain (more like a geyser). Along the way was a fancy shopping district and the English Garden with its clock made of flowers.

Flower clock.Geneva geyser.

Hopping back in the car, we drove down the south of France (discovering a multitude of tolls) and landed in Marseille. We were placed on the top floor without an elevator in hot and humid weather, so we were feeling miserable by the end of the day.

Day 2

We were out the door bright and early thinking to catch the first boat to Chateau d’If. However, it didn’t leave at 7:30 a.m. like anticipated but rather 9:15 a.m. So after buying the tickets, we hiked up the big hill to the Basilica. Great views (after nearly dying from the steep slope) from a garden just under it, then up around the Basilica’s terrace. I particularly loved the “striped” pattern caused by using green-colored stone, and the interior reflecting a very nautical theme. Pretty quiet that early in the morning too, and cool, making the walk pleasant (and tiring). We had to book it back down the hill (sometimes going down is more difficult!) to catch the boat to the little island with Chateau d’If. The fortress is quite bare, but we all felt it was interesting enough to visit.

Basilica du Notre Dame.Basilica interior.Marseille harbor.Chateau D'If.

Once back, we jumped in the car for Avignon. Avignon was once a home to popes and was the initial cause for the Great Schism (when the pope relocated). We were pleasantly surprised; Avignon is a walled city along the Vaucluse River. We were melting as soon as we stepped out of the car, but that didn’t stop us from seeing the charm of this city. We visited the Palais des Papes (papal palace) and walked around town a bit, seeing the Avignon bridge with a chapel built in it as we followed the riverfront back.

Reading.Rib support.

But we weren’t done there. Hopping back in the car, we drove half hour west to see the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct. Herr had visited it over a decade ago and was surprised to find shops and a swimming area under the bridge. If we had known, I think we all would have joined the swimmers it was so hot!

Aqueduct.Olive tree.

That night we determined we should move our third night in France closer to the Italian border and go back north via Italy instead of France like originally planned (somewhat in hopes of avoiding more toll roads, to no avail). The hotel was okay with this, so Herr found a place in Nice.

Switzerland: Part 2

1 January 2010

New Years Day was slated for a full day in Zurich. However, when we got downtown, it was more like a ghost town. Everything was closed (they even had posters everywhere stating it). It made me horribly depressed; it looked like it would have been a lot of fun to spend a day hanging around the shops. Herr attempted to cheer me up by walking around the lake, but it was such a dreary grey and windy day, we ended up back at the hotel two hours later.

So the first day of the new year, I spent watching movies on the tv and just relaxing. Herr left for a few hours to take photos of trains and visit the empty campus of ETH (where Einstein went to school), and later we went for another swim up in the pool (did I mention the views?). All in all, it was best for me to have a day of relaxing, and even though I was still sad about everything being closed, I felt a lot better.

2 January 2010

Herr really wanted to go to Konstanz, and I wanted to go to Rhine Falls, so our goal was to get them both in today. It took us a while to find Lake Konstanz, but when we did it was great. The sky had cleared up, and it was a true port area with port entries and docks with boats. We couldn’t find the catamaran that was still in service at first, but as soon as we sat down at a fantastic restaurant on the pier we spotted one coming in.

The restaurant had fantastic Mediterannean/Asian cuisine; I had a potato pear soup and Herr enjoyed a delicious Asain noodle dish (I helped him with it :P). We hopped on the catamaran for a 50 minute trip to the other side of the lake where the Zeppelin Museum is. We walked inside a Hindenburg replica and saw other aircraft/blimp/car related Zeppelin things but just missed the trip back we were supposed to take to Konstanz.

We ended up stopping by an ice cream shop and having a fancy kiwi sundae as we waited for the next catamaran, but it was already getting too dark to go to the falls. We just headed back to the hotel and planned to see the falls the next day.

3 January 2010

Our last day in Switzerland, Herr had originally planned to drive three hours south to go up the mountain to Zermatt, where the Matterhorn is visible. The skies were bright and sunny, and at the last minute, instead of taking it easy and swinging by the falls, we turned around to the mountains. Unfortunately, the farther south we went, the cloudier it got.

Zig zagging through the mountains, the directions read to get on a train then continue driving for a few more miles. This really confused us until we came to an auto train, where you actually drive your car onto the train, and wait in the car as the train takes you by rail through a very long tunnel. That was an interesting and dark experience (the tunnel is not lighted). 😛

We eventually found the base of the peak with another pseudo rack railway that could take us to Zermatt. Now, I should say, none of this was free; going up a mountain is horribly expensive. So I was pretty grumpy when we got on the train. Zermatt is an interesting town in that no personal vehicles exist. There are mini hotel vehicle things, but you really just walk everywhere. Even as far up in the mountains as we were, the Matterhorn disappeared into foggy clouds. We saw the base of the craggy peak, but not the entire mountain. It was a bit disheartening.

As we waited for the train to take us back down the mountain, we stopped for a bit of cheese fondue. It seemed fitting to have our last meal be cheesy. 😉 The drive back (thank goodness the auto train was still operating at 6 p.m. on a Sunday!) took about five hours. In hindsight, we really should have gone to the falls, or just one of the mountain peaks. We are planning a trip to Austria later this year and have agreed we’d take the long way home through Switzerland so I can see the falls, and maybe even the ice caves (or regular caves), the two things I really wanted to do in Switzerland.

I do feel much better having gotten a break, but I was pretty stressed out for other reasons because of it as well. It is now the most expensive trip we have made in Europe, and it is making me wary about taking another trip anytime soon. We’ll see though, because we are finding ourselves more and more busy with the local theatre. But the views in Switzerland are definitely to die for. 🙂

Switzerland: Part 1

We spent five days in Switzerland around the New Year as a last minute get away to relieve stress. I have been incredibly stressed at work, without breaks and mountains of work to do as others took vacation or were on the road to meet a tight deadline. Regardless, I was past breaking point. Our original plan was to go to Iceland and stay at the spa, hang out in the Blue Lagoon, but airfare is horrendous. That canceled, we were going to stay home; then we decided a getaway was necessary.

30 December 2009

After picking up the Ford Fiesta, we ran the dogs over to the kennel (it was so sad!), then south we went. We stopped just inside the Swiss border at the town of Basel for lunch at the train station, which is when we found out how expensive it was to eat. The Swiss Franc is only a little stronger than the U.S. dollar, which is at least better than the euro.

We took a circuitous route farther into the countryside, tunneling through mountains, crisscrossing up them, and eventually driving up and along a narrow serpentine cliff-like road (with no guard rails!) before reaching our destination: the Emmantal dairy farm. Switzerland is known for its cheese and chocolate (and watches), and Emmantaler is one of the four main cheeses. It also happens to have an open floor plan for visitors to watch the cheese action live. It was worth seeing.

Afterward, we left for Zurich. We were upgraded to business room at the hotel, then went to the hotel restaurant for dinner. I really like pumpkin risotto. 😀 A little after dinner, we had massages at the wellness center on the top floor, where the pool and exercise rooms are also located. All the rooms had a great view of the city, but I highly recommend NOT getting massages. They were okay, but the cost two or three times more than a normal spa. It was ridiculous; just go to Baden Baden.

31 December 2009

We spent most of New Years Eve in Lucerne. The city is gorgeous, with the Alps hemming it and a huge lake. There’s also a great shopping district we wandered through after checking out the infamous water bridge (it burned back in 1993 after standing for 500 years) and water tower. It felt great to be walking along the water front, and the birds were amusing to watch.

We got a quick bite at a pizza place (trying to stay in a budget with food is not easy), then headed around the lake to a small town with an aerial tram that met up with a rack railway train to take us up to the top of Rigi. The views on the way up were spectacular, but definitely not for the faint of heart (or heights). It was getting dark when we finally made it to the top, so we watched the sunset above the clouds and the city spring to lights (ha ha) down below. The moon was also much bigger from a peak in the Alps. 😉

The only problem with our itinerary was the running around we did on the peak made me dizzy and lightheaded, so when we returned to Zurich, I had no energy to go out to the New Year celebrations going on downtown. I wish we could have, from what we heard it was quite a party along the lake with live music and fireworks. As it was, we watched fireworks go off in different cities around the world in the comfort of the hotel room. I know, sad, but lesson learned; do not run around the peaks of the Alps (at least if you want to do something later).