Our first taste of Europe was arriving in Zurich and getting the car organised..that was fun..not, but then driving on the other side of the road was insane..but we got there, lucky it was Good Friday. Drove through to Bern without too much trouble and arrived at Paul and Valerie’s place in one piece. getting a little lost we just happened to see Valerie out for a walk and she guided us in . it was great to see them after a few years over there and Theodore had grown so much it was great to reconnect.
After a cuppa and settling in we went for a wander along the river and around the town visiting all the sights on the Saturday afternoon, such a nice old town, built in the 1500’s and very decorative and colourful. Ate in and off to bed.
We visited Paul at the radio station studio and checked out all the technology , very interesting. went back into town on a busy market day and saw things more normal and then after lunch we hiked up the local mountain through the forests and then to the Zoo along the river before a nice Pasta dinner and a late night in. we had a big day planned in the Alps and set off to Luzern which was really lovely right on the lake with its timber bridge and market town square. the mountains are all snow topped and we were surrounded by some serious looking peaks. we had our first ever Hagen Das ice-cream and wow what a taste. we also had a great laugh with our first Ausgang sign…
It was time to hit the mountains and we were able to go up the Stanishorn at 1,900m in a cog railway up the easy part and then a cable car to the summit.
We had a great time playing and building snowmen on the peak and had a nice cuppa in the cafe. the views over the valleys were spectacular and as our first mountain experience it was amazing.
We drove back through the valleys and onto Interlarken past the two lakes and the Tigre mountain and up over a mountain pass in a full loop before arriving back in Bern. We had a lovely roast dinner and stayed up too late talking and drinking.. we were off to Italy in the morning so hoping for clear heads. we had a lovely time in Switzerland and thanks to Paul & Valerie for the great hosting.
We headed off from Bern and said our farewells and onto the motorway to the Kanderstag Rail Tunnel which was pitch black but quick and we studies our Italian along the way. We then headed for Brig hoping for another Railride but could not find it so went up the Simple Pass. The mountains were amazing 4,000m peaks and plenty of snow and stopped at the top of the pass and had lunch where Beth put sugar on her chips by mistake which was interesting and made her very grumpy. We headed over the boarder and met the Italian Guards who were very amused by Kangaroos!.
The road out of the Alps was a shocker and then the big mistake was taking the short route to Locarno which ran along g the side of a mountain with sheer cliffs and missing railings everywhere, it was so scary especially with crazy Italian drivers honking us from behind and charging at us from the other direction. We were all stressed to the max when we finally found our way from Locarno and then had trouble finding the right road to Lugarno as everything was confusing. We finally made it to Tesserette and our Hotel The Gran Villa Capriasco which was delightful with seperate space for the girls. We changed our whole approach after the experiences we have had and will now slow it down a bit and stayed an extra night in Tesserette to get well as we all had something amiss. A relaxing day enjoying the sunshine looking at the mountains around us was just what we needed to get ready for the next part.
We posted off our excess baggage to home which was very expensive and learnt our big lessons on what you need to travel with. Headed to the Autostrade and flew by Milan and then Bologna and stopped at a roadside park to destress from the crazy truck drivers and to eat our lunch. Made it to San Gimignano in one piece but still a bit stressed when we arrived at the Pescille Hotel which was very nice and rustic but clean and very authentic styling. The room was huge and the view back to the town was lovely but the restaurant was closed as was the pool and the toilet was traditional so we just stayed one night. We headed off to town and wow we are in Italy and what a place with the Piazzas and the towers it is just so old and fascinating. We checked out the hotels and chose the Hotel Leon Bianco right in the centre of town
Staying in San Gimignano was a great idea and the hotel was fantastic with vaulted brick ceilings and tiled floors and in every modern condition with great views over the town and alleyways. There were markets right out front and we wandered around to get our bearings before heading off to Sienna. We found our way and then found a car park just outside the city walls and then followed a group of students into town to San Domenico where we had lunch in a cafe. It started to rain so we bought some umbrellas and also a few jumpers and ties for some reason. we then found our way to the Piazza Del Compo where the Palio Horse race is held. The Square is in the shape of an ampitheatre surrounded along the curve by Palazzos with the stunning Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall) set across the straight edge like a stage. We visited the museum and saw our first frescos which were amazing as were the paintings and sculptures along with the vast interiors and amazing ceilings. When we emerged the sun was fully out and the Siena skies were the most vibrant blue imaginable so we headed for the Duomo and wow this place just keeps getting better and better. The black and white Marble stripped exterior with its massive Bell Tower and incredibly ornate facade just blew us away and when we got inside things went to another level of wow. The paintings, frescos, and ornate carvings were next level for us and the experience was what travel is all about.
The stripped interiors were like a licorice all sorts and with the coloured marble floors the whole effect was astounding.
We headed back to San Gimignano after getting last a few times but in the Tuscan countryside that is not such a bad thing
We slept like babies that night and then wandered around town and up to the top of the tallest tower to take in the magnificent vistas . Beth loved the white towels as they were so thin and light but did the drying trick pretty good for her size.
It was then off to Firenze for the day and found a great parking spot just outside the town walls and walked through to Piazza Tasso and then onto Santo Spirito and enjoyed an amazing chilli pasta. We crossed the F.Arno River and then up the Via Tornabruni to the Duomo . WOW talk about pink marble on steroids this was crazy and stunningly huge with a dome that defies description and a Baptistry that was the most flamboyant thing we had ever seen. We visited the Palazzo Vecchio (Town Hall) at the Piazza Signoria and the replica statue of David and wandered around the river and the famous Gold traders Bridge, the Ponte Vechio and then past the Pal Pitti and then back down to our car via the narrow dirty streets
We got harassed on our way to the Town Hall by the pizza box thieves and Ann was nearly done and the shock of it was all a bit much. it was thanks to the quick action of a shopkeeper that they didn’t succeed having the zip on ants bag half open
it was how off to Geneva and an eventful stop along the way at Casale M, a funny old town with crappy hotels but with a business hotel that we stayed in that did not have a restaurant and as a result we ate at a wedding reception and got totally ripped off by the local mafia heavies to the tune of $180 for a meal worth $50 but that is another lesson learnt
We arrived in Paris via a short stop in Geneva which was after a good drive along the Italian mountain valleys to the 12km long Mount Blanc Tunnel. the French countryside was beautiful from our fast train window and we arrived at Gar de Lyon in no time at all. Our hotel was OK, a bit small so we had a rest and then headed out into the amazing city of Paris. First stop was the delightful Place des Vosges, which was the first of its kind in Paris built in the 1600’s it set the scene for such squares and buildings all over Europe. we ate our lunch in the park having bought some lovely baguettes and pastries at an amazing shop and watch the Parisians at play.
We wandered around past the Hotel de Ville (town hall) and then down to the River Siene and jumped on board a river cruise to take it all in. That was a great decision as it really does provide such a great way to see this massive amazing city. All the history, majesty and atmosphere with Notre Dame, The Eifell Tower, The Louvre, Palaces and Bridges as you cruise by.
We discovered that restaurants are very expensive so decided to cook our own Breakfast and Diners for the next two nights so spent the morning ng shopping before heading to the METRO for the next adventure. it was much easier than we thought once we knew how and it was of to The Invalides and then to the Eiffel Tower. It was spectacular with its big wide avenues and monuments around the Gold domed Invalides Military hospital and now museum leading up to the tower. Fortunately most of Paris is no more than 4-5 storeys high so the main monuments and buildings can be seen from afar and no more than the stunning Eiffel Tower. We took a trip up to the top and the vista was amazing, we then crossed over the Seine to the Trocadero buildings from the 1937 International Exhibition and walked up the Champs de eleysee and then the metro to the Arch de Triomph and watched the crazy traffic flow around this massive monument.
Next stop was Monmatre and the stunning Sacra Coure church with its islamic domes and eastern style sitting up on the top of the hill overlooking all of Paris. We got hassled and abused by the Algerian trinket sellers and then headed off to the Metro and down to Madeline where we walked through the historic region to the stunning Paris Opera. This was a highlight and we got to explore the amazing interior with the Marc Chagall ceiling, the incredible staircases, the banquet rooms and just the sheer opulence of it all. We got a taxi back to the Hotel from the Louvre after just wandering around the outside and stayed in that night to get ready for the journey home.
Well that was it for us and our first amazing big adventure, its off to the airport and on our way home via Bangkok which was just a day in the heat and smog not much else to report other than a big air conditioned room to escape the craziness outside.