15/10/10 - 21/10/10 20 °C
Another day another train strike in France (striking about the increase in retirement age by 2 years), Friday was a travelling day with a long trip to Geneva Switzerland planned. Our first problem was to get out of France into Italy by catching an early train to Monaco followed by another to Vintemille. In Vintemille we stopped for an hour and managed to get some breakfast – I had a hot chocolate that was a block of melted dark chocolate in a cup – rich and thick which I could only half drink/eat.
Vintemille was Italy so it became easier as all the trains were running and we eventually caught a train to Milano. The Italian trains are much older than the French or Spanish, First Class seating was comfortable but the seats needed a good clean (hate to think what 2nd class was like!) but they did run on time which was good. By afternoon we had brought a SIM card for Italy and refueled with a light lunch of pizza and were ready for our final journey of the day with a long trip from Milano to Geneva via Bern – unfortunately most of the Swiss scenery was missed as it was dark and rainy by the time we crossed into the mountains.
Once we arrived at the station in Geneva we set about finding a hotel (first time we actually turned up in a city without a prior reservation – we weren’t sure where we might be because of the train strike), I guarded all the bags while Liz set about canvassing the hotels near the station for ‘cheap’ rooms. It didn’t take long to realize that Geneva was a bloody expensive city as our extremely basic hotel was 140 Swiss Francs (about equivalent to the Aussie Dollar) and its rack rate was around 300 SFrancs! So with a bed to sleep in we managed to complete another day of travel and fun.
Saturday was Geneva and because of the cost of staying in Geneva we decided to have a quick look around then head for Interlaken (central Switzerland – near the Alps). Geneva was somewhat underwhelming, which probably wasn’t helped by the continual drizzle, with the old city not being very interesting, the fountain in the lake was good as was the shopping strip, all the souvenir shops had were watches, clocks, Swiss army knives, and cow bells. The food was expensive (McDonald 40 Francs for two meal deals!!!) I couldn’t wait to get out of the city before it bankrupted me.
After a four hour journey from Geneva to Interlaken with a change of train in Bern we stepped out onto the cold wet platform at the Interlaken Ost station and realised we should have gotten off at Interlaken West (the previous station). It was supposed to be only a short walk to the Hotel Blume (15 minutes from Ost or 5 minutes from West Station) however obviously lugging our luggage meant it took longer. It was however a good opportunity to get the lay of the land, find the local supermarket and have the odd discussion about whose fault it was that we didn’t know that Interlaken had two stations. We arrived at the hotel a little wet but we did arrive to find a nicely renovated room with good heating the only drawback was the shared facilities – we knew this when we booked. The shower was on the floor above our room and the toilet on the floor below.
I’ll prefix the next paragraph by saying that it’s ridiculous that the Swiss have a different power adaptor to the rest of Europe. On check-in at the hotel we asked if they had an adaptor for the power, the lady produced a box of adaptors and picked one out for us which I thought was good as our phones and the computer hadn’t been charged in two days. On getting into the room I checked the room and decided that I should put Liz’s phone on the charger so with adaptor and charger ready to go I plugged in – flash of light, burning small and no lights in the hotel - I’d managed to short out the place! Luckily it turned out to be just our room and the neighbour’s as the hotel had upgraded to circuit breakers in the recent renovations. So with the owners help we reset the breaker, no power still; the owner then had to find the main circuit board and reset another breaker before we again reset our floors breaker, power at last 30 minutes after the flash – I don’t think Liz’s Iphone charger is going to work every again! We didn’t dare to try and charge our stuff again so we used what charge was left in the laptop to charge Liz’s Iphone via the USB cable. What a night!!
Interlaken was a recommendation from Ashlee and it turned out to be a lovely town sitting in a valley at the bottom of the Alps in the Jungfraujoch
region (Jungfraujoch called the Top of Europe at 3454m is only about an hour away by train – Mt Jungfrau stands at 4158m). The weather was still overcast and rainy and we could tell from our TV investigations (a channel is set aside for the view from cameras on top of some of the popular peaks) that the cloud cover extended all the way to the top – a complete whiteout and not worth the money for a journey to the top! Instead we were directed to a place called Trümmelbach which had a series of 10 glacier water falls inside a mountain in the Lauterbrunnen Valley about 20km up the valley from Interlaken. I came to embrace the gloves and beanie that I had been carrying in my bag for so long and a scarf that Liz lent me (she really wanted to breakout a new one she had brought I think!) as it was pretty cold.
The trip to the waterfalls was cool with a narrow gauge train hauling us from Interlaken (567m) to Lauterbrunn (796m) and a bus taking us to Trümmelbach. The falls were inside a mountain and involved a funicular ride inside a rock tunnel, the water of the falls look a strange green colour and the spray was very cold. It is impressive what the passage of water over time can achieve with large passages cut through extremely solid rock. We walked down from the falls via a staircase and walkway that followed the path of the 10 falls.
From the falls we travelled to Stechelberg (910m) at the far end of the valley where they had a cable car to go up to Schilthorn (007 movie was filmed there) at 2960m but the camera positioned at Schiltorn fstill showed was a whiteout so we had no chance of seeing the Alps – plus I didn’t like the looks of the cable car that was swaying in the wind as it climbed up the mountain. So it was back to Lauterbrunn for a 50 minute wait for the next rain to Interlaken. On our walk from the station at Interlaken to our hotel Liz saw an ad for a Chocolate show/class so we booked in for the class later that afternoon.
Chocolate class was fun and Liz felt very at home when she was asked to step behind the bench and coated and decorated some coffee praline. It was interesting to taste some of the creations the chef was developing, a tequila and lemon which had a real bite (he said he’d garnish with salt so that it added some balance to the taste), a passionfruit which was very nice and lychee which I thought was only OK but I’m not a lychee fan. Around the room was a display of show pieces made by apprentices for their qualifications - these where really amazing, the pirate ship in the photo below was a gold medal winner.
In the evening we decided to have dinner at our hotel which had a Mexican restaurant, we started with a margarita each before Liz had a fried burrito thingy and I had seafood skewers with garlic chili sauce which was really good. After dinner it was time to get all our stuff together as we were moving on to Padova Italy the next day but not before taking a journey to another small village higher up the Alps in the morning.
Once we checked out of the hotel we lugged our bags back to Interlarken Ost station, (the furthest) as it was where we needed to catch the train for the mountain lines which are run by private companies, and stored our bags in a locker. We brought tickets (not covered in our Eurail pass but we did get a discount) to Grindelwald one of the largest ski resorts in the Alps and sits below Mt Eiger (3970m). We had decided to travel there as we’d seen on the TV that it was snowing and, as I still haven’t been to the snow, Liz wanted to take me (probably just to throw snowballs at my head!!). The train trip was just over 30 minutes and passed through some quintessential Swiss country side, as we got closer to the village it became apparent that there was no snow which was disappointing. We wandered around the village for about 40 minutes checking out the stores and being amazed by the indoor pool with big waterslide that came outside the building be flowing back indoors to the pool (it was a covered tube). It was a little cold here with the temperature at about 3oC outside and with the heating 23oC indoors so we were constantly removing and then putting back on jackets, scarves, hats and gloves.
Once back in Interlaken we had about an hour before our train left and Liz really wanted to try a traditional Swiss fondue for lunch. This was a great disappointment as dipping bread into the melted cheese really wasn’t as interesting or tasty as it sounds. Liz and I didn’t finish our fondue and nearly fell over when we had to pay 50 francs for the experience – Switzerland is great but very expensive even if it is the quiet season.
The train trip from Interlaken to Spiez was uneventful but at Spiez I sat on the cold platform waiting for our connection to Milano while Liz tried to find something to spend our remaining Swiss francs. Our train to Milano was warm and only took a couple of hours – the countryside was interesting and as usual Liz didn’t take her eyes off the scenery not wanting to miss a moment of the experience. We changed trains in Milano for Padova which is about 30 minutes from Venice, Padova is a university town and was selected for the sole purpose that accommodation was cheaper than Venice but still not far for a day trip.
While the weather in Switzerland was cold and rainy Italy was warm and sunny. So after a good night’s sleep we decided to have a look around Padova before taking a train to Venice for the afternoon. We walked to the centre of town and found the tourist office who gave us the usual list of monuments, cathedrals and stuff to visit but Liz had spied some markets nearby so we spent most of the morning looking at the food produce, clothing and general markets around the town squares.
Once we’d finished at the markets we walked the kilometre to the train station just in time to squeeze onto a train to Venice. Venice was stunning with people swarming (more than 20 million visitors per year – no wonder it’s sinking!) and boats zooming over the water of the canals. With map in hand we decided to walk the street to Piazza San Marco, basically from one side to the other, the guide books had told us that everyone gets lost in the narrow backstreets. I can honestly say that we didn’t get lost once and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of navigating the labyrinth of canals, bridges, streets and alleys. Every street had something to offer in small stores, shops and cafes it really is a remarkable place. The area I least liked was the Piazza San Marco as it seemed so big and impersonal (could have been any major square in an city) compared to the intimacy of the backstreets and smaller campo (squares).
Our time in Venice really flew, as we walked along the canals, up and over bridges and checked out many shops and purchased some small things to remember the experience, and before we knew it the time was gone and so was the sun. We took a water bus through the Grand Canal from Piazzetta San Marco (where we met a couple of ladies from Hawks Nest – small world) to the station which was magical as we started at dusk and by the end of the 40 minute trip it was night. We eventually got back to our hotel exhausted and a little cold, the temperature drops rapidly as the sun disappears and we’d not prepared to be out so long and it was about 13oC as we got on the train in Venice and even colde when we arrived back at Padova.
Wednesday was going to be another day in Venice but we decided that we’d pretty much covered what we wanted the previous day so we visited the station for the required reservation for the train to Pisa, our next stop. A stop at the post office to post Ashlee her Christmas present, always fun as we don’t speak Italian and they mostly don’t speak English, so the package that we sent to Ashlee could end up anywhere. Once again we visited the markets looking for a bag to carry our increasing load but couldn’t find what we were looking for so journeyed on. Eventually giving up the search for a rest at the hotel where I sat and caught up with my blog entries and Liz stretched and researched the next adventure on our travels.