Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Switzerland - Tasch, Zermatt and leukerbad

Yeah!! Weekend trip to Switzerland! I love Switzerland or Svizzera (in Italian).

The drive to our destination, Tasch, was around 3 hours. These 3 hours were totally enjoyable with the beautiful landscapes of Switzerland. Although there were many winding roads up and down the mountains, we were totally enjoying it. Switzerland certainly lives up to its expectation of "Swiss standard of living". Other than the beautiful scenery, the infrastructures are orderly arranged, the towns and cities are clean and even the winding roads built on the mountains are broad and smooth. Most importantly, we felt really safe to travel.

Photo taken while driving on the road. I loved the snow mountains!

We stopped halfway along the road and saw people skiing and para-gliding on the snow.

We arrived at our hotel in Tasch, Aparthotel Monte Rosa at noon time. It's a clean and basic apartment with kitchen, living room, bed room and toilet. We chose to stay outside Zermatt because the hotels in Zermatt were more expensive than the towns around it..

This was the view from our hotel. People could actually ski on this flat land that was covered with snow in front of our hotel. It was meant for beginners to learn ski here. But this was a different type of ski. And we made a blunder later in our trip which spoiled the trip a little.

After check-in, we set off to Zermatt. It's just a 10 minutes train ride from Tasch to Zermatt at 8 CHF per person per way.

The train we took to Zermatt

Zermatt is a town with no petrol cars.. So these are the types of transport there..

Cute police cars!

Zermatt. A really beautiful place. The pictures were self explanatory. I loved the snow covered Alps.

We wanted to take the cable car to go up to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise to have a great view of the Matterhorn and also a tour in the Matterhorn Glacier Palace. But the cable car was closed as it was too windy when we went. So we took the alternative, the Gornergrat Bahn, it's a train that brings you up the mountain and you could also have great views of the Matterhorn. The transports were expensive. The cable car was 99 chf per person for return trip (include tickets to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise), while the normal fare for Gornergrat Bahn was 82 chf per person for return trip. But we managed to get a discount and paid 56 chf per person for return trip because we went up quite late at 5pm. Well, we were in Switzerland so that's the kind of price we should have expected. But it was all worth it when you were up there.

Our Gornergrat Bahn ticket

The train

Look at the views when we were up there!

Gornergrat @ 3089m

The observatory station on Gornergrat

Yeah!! I love snow mountains!

It was very cold at Gornergrat. There was a cafe and we went in to get some warmth. At the same time, we're still able to get the view of Matterhorn. Hee.

Chilling with a cup of hot chocolate and a cup coffee with view of the Matterhorn. That feels super shiok!

It's a pity that clouds sank in as the sun set, so we weren't able to capture a nice sunset view of the Matterhorn.

We took the 8pm Gornergrat Bahn back to Zermatt.. It was already all dark and there was not a single street lamp on the way from the cafe to the Gornergrat Bahn station. We couldn't see the road and I was happy that my phone was working and we used the Assistive light to help us move around. At this hour, even the Gornergrat Bahn station was quiet and empty. But we were lucky that the lights were still on, so we went in to get some warmth and waited for the train. In the station, we found these stamps! 

Stamp on our Gornergrat Bahn tickets

The next morning while we were having our breakfast, we chatted with a family of 3. The lady was from China and she married a Swiss man, and they were with their cute little baby.. They stayed at Bern and invited us to visit them if we are going Bern next time.

They told us that they were going for some ski later and invited us to join them at that big piece of flat land covered with snow in front of our hotel. They're happy to teach us how to ski.

So my hubby and I walked happily to the ski rental shop and rented our ski equipment. We wore the ski shoe out of the shop as instructed by the shop owner and left our shoes in the ski shop. The ski shoe was so heavy and it was really hard to walk on normal ground. We still gotta carry the ski boards and 4 sticks, it's really hard to take all these things and walk back to our hotel.

When we met the family of 3, they told us that we had rented the wrong set of ski equipment! The one we had rented were for Alpine ski. Skiing on flat ground is called Nordic ski or Cross-country ski. The equipment for Nordic ski or Cross-country ski would be cheaper and lighter than Alpine ski. Ohh.. We seriously didn't know that there were different kinds of ski equipment for different types of ski. So, we immediately drove to the ski rental shop, only to find that the shop was closed for noon break, and it would open only at 4 pm!

Okay.. So not only did we didn't manage to learn skiing, we didn't even have our shoes! We idled in our hotel until 4 pm and went back to the ski rental shop. We were lucky that the man was nice and did not charge us rental charges for our ski equipment.

So we wasted a few hours of our time and we decided to drive to a place recommended by the family of 3, Leukerbad. Never heard of it before? We too. It's around an hour drive from Tasch, and we were told that there were many spa and wellness centers there. On the way to Leukerbad, there were some really nice scenery.

Then, it was a series of winding road up to Leukerbad. It was located in the middle of snow covered mountains..

There were many indoor swimming pools and Jacuzzi centers at Leukerbad. But we didn't try them as we didn't bring our swimming costumes along. But it was a nice place. It's not touristy, I think only the locals knew about this place, as we wouldn't have know about this place if not for the family of 3. The surroundings and atmosphere were relaxed and serene. We would consider coming back again with our swimming costumes, if we happened to be around the area.

After we left Leukerbad, it's dinner time!

 Cheese fondue..

The cheese fondue in Switzerland was different from what I had eaten in Singapore. The alcoholic taste of cheese fondue in Switzerland was much much stronger than Singapore's. I felt that I could get drunk just by eating the cheese fondue. For Switzerland's cheese fondue, you gotta be patient and let it cook for a period of time before you start gobbling it. After we let it cooked for some time, the alcoholic taste faded until there's just a tinge of alcohol in it and it tasted really delicious.

Hmm.. My feelings about Switzerland? We had went to a few other towns in Switzerland and we really love this place. Beautiful scenery. The towns and cities are nice, clean and well organised. Roads are nicely paved and they are quite efficient when it comes to road safety. Take this Zermatt trip for example, the night before we went back Gallarate, it was snowing very heavily and we were worried that the roads might be covered with snow the next morning. But our worries were all unfounded. The roads were cleared of snow and driving back was easy and enjoyable. Enjoyable because the landscapes gave me a totally different feel after a night's heavy snow. The mountains, trees and the whole area were more white than before. It gave me a dreamy, fairy-tale feeling.

Other than that, people in Switzerland are nice, drivers in Switzerland are nice too.. They have more patience and are more courteous on the road.

But one thing about Switzerland is the things are really expensive. We are always empty-handed when we shopped at shopping centers or supermarkets in Switzerland. Because we can get them at a much cheaper price in Italy. But I guess it sort of balance off as they are also paid higher in Switzerland.

Nonetheless, it's no wonder that Singapore wants to achieve that "Swiss standard of living". But at the same time, I feel sad. Because we are not anywhere near there, and we are drifting further and further away from that standard :'(

Monday, 18 March 2013

Rush to Florence & Pisa over the weekend..

We suddenly got the urge to spend the weekend away from home, and decided to drive all the way to Florence and Pisa. It's a real rush where my hubby drove almost 350 km from Gallarate to Florence, then another 85 km to Pisa from Florence and another 350 km back home from Pisa, all within 2 days.

We started our journey on Saturday morning and arrived Florence at around 3pm in the afternoon. We stayed at Gourmet B&B Villa Landuci. It was a nice little B&B but it's quite a distance from the Old Town. B&Bs in Italy cities are usually quite hard to find, this was no exception. They don't usually have a main door with the B&B name on a big sign board. These B&Bs are like normal apartments located behind those big, tall and sturdy wooden doors, and you'll need to press on the door bell for them to open the door for you.

Our room. Clean and nice.

Complimentary tea bags and instant coffee powder. The cups was so pretty.

Upon check-in, we walked around 20 minutes to reach Florence Old Town. Most of the Old Towns in Italy are quite similar, with the Duomo and Piazza being the main area. 

For Florence, other than the Duomo and Piazza, there's the famous Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Okay, the bridge was packed with people. So, we took the picture from the side instead. 

There's not much to rave about for Florence Old Town, unless you are interested in museums, like Museo Galileo or Uffizi gallery. So for us, it's just an Old Town with nice architectures, a river, many shops and lots of nice restaurants and bars. 

We went to this bar which was recommended by our B&B host and it's really good. It's full house when we were there and we stand at the bar to have our food and drinks because there's not enough chairs. I would highly recommend Volpi e l'uva.
Address: Piazza Dei Rossi 1, 50125 Florence

Entrance of the Bar

We ordered the ham and cheese platter with bread and 2 glasses of white wine.. The ham was delicious. If  you dunno what wine to order, just let the host know what kind of wine you prefer and they will recommend you some good wine that suits your taste.

While we were there, we chatted with an old couple from UK and they had been patronising this bar every time they came to Florence, and they were full of praises. We also chatted with a group of Japanese students who ordered a plate of toasted bread with ham and cheese that made us drool. It was really nice, pipping hot melted cheese with tasty ham on a perfectly toasted bread. Thumbs up!

While walking around the Old Town, you will see some interesting stuff on their road signs.

Pac-man eating up the No Entry sign.. hahaha..

Behind bars.. sob sob.

The next day, we went to Piazzale Michaelangelo to have a panaromic view of Florence..

Views of Florence Old Town from Michaelangelo

Hmm.. We saw quite a number of David statue in Florence. Here's one at Piazzale Michaelangelo. Heard that the real one's inside the Galleria Dell'Accademia.. 

If you have the time, I would suggest going Piazzale Michaelangelo during sunset. The views would be amazing. We didn't have the time as we were rushing to Pisa after that.

After an hour's drive, we arrived at Pisa. Er.. There's really nothing much at Pisa except for the Leaning Tower and the Duomo. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the seven wonders in the world, so at least take some pictures la..

Leaning Tower. We were intrigued by how it was built.

The Duomo and Leaning Tower

We spent half an hour at Pisa and we were all set to go back Gallarate. Long drive back. -.-