A Travellerspoint blog

Days 41 to 43

Last Stop Singapore and It's a Wrap!

storm 31 °C

Andrew and I love Singapore and had deliberately chosen to spend our three last days/nights here in a familiar environment so we could just chill and do not much, something we have now proven to ourselves, 100%, that we aren't really very good at.

In a sense, by the time we reached Singapore, it felt a little like we were in a weird sort of limbo. Whilst very much feeling as though we were on the downward track to home and looking forward to getting there on one hand, we were also a little sad this amazing trip was coming to an end. I am now writing this from home and was considering skipping this Singapore entry and heading straight to a planned 'wrap up' entry because we didn't really do anything too new or exciting but, in all honesty, Singapore is a great city and deserves it's own entry, so here goes....

We were originally introduced to this amazing city by our dearest/oldest friends the Brownes - sorry Claudia I know we don't like to use that term :) who live in Melbourne and we don't see nearly often enough! They've long been big fans of Singapore and eventually we joined them here for a week a few years back and we haven't stopped visiting since, either with them whenever possible, or by ourselves at least once a year to attend the Broadcast Asia trade show. Over the years we've seen a lot of the city, we've done food tours, cultural tours, seen the Botanical Gardens, Gardens by the Bay, shopped Orchard Road with the best of them, eaten at some amazing restaurants and hawker stalls, done Sentosa Island, Chinatown, Little India, Arab Street and the Singapore Flyer. This time around we kept it much simpler...

We went to the Maxwell Centre, which is home to a lot of amazing hawker stalls, including this one....

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For decades the family who own this stall have been getting up at 4am to prepare their famous Oyster Cakes (personally the thought of putting an oyster in a cake is just too weird, and disgusting, to contemplate). Apparently the whole process is quite complex and they contain, yep, you guessed it, oysters plus prawns and minced meat (exact type is unknown) plus a few herbs and spices that are all fried together in a rice batter, the end result is Andrew's favourite Singapore snack.... this photo actually shows more of the traditional chicken rice dish (more my style) than the oyster but anyway....

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Our plans to spend an afternoon chilling by the pool were thwarted as Singapore's famous thunderstorms clouds started to build on the horizon...

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And sure enough, within the hour it was bucketing down....

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No worries, we'll just head to Orchard Road for a bit of shopping instead - sadly the purchases were mostly made by Andrew and were of the electronic variety, not surprising as Singapore has never been a particularly successful hunting ground for me and my size 40 feet and larger than a size 8 frame.

These three days slipped by way too fast in many ways, as we may just have been getting the hang of doing not much (largely in part to me coming down with a cold and Andrew having a particularly good book to finish,) when it was time to pack those bags for the final time, head to the airport and board that flight for home....but not before checking out Singapore's latest amazing addition to Changi Airport...the world's tallest indoor waterfall. Now, I wouldn't usually rate an indoor waterfall - I'm generally more partial to the external variety - but this one is truly awesome...

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So, that's it for me from Singapore - as mentioned I am planning on a couple more entries, one to wrap up the whole the trip and the other to list/rate the airlines/accommodation and some of the restaurants for those that might be interested... just need to fully recover from this cold before tackling those with any gusto....

But in the meantime... I am truly happy to be home and hope to catch up with those of you in my immediate orbit soon!!

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Jxx

Posted by janemooney 22:45 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Days 35 to 40

Tuscany and onto Singapore - but not without some drama...

overcast 22 °C

When I last left you we had arrived in a wet Montepulciano, thankful to be off the road and safely ensconced in our gorgeous room in a real life Palazzo in the centre of the old town - frescos, 6m high ceilings, original paintings and the whole noble palace shebang.

Thankfully by the following the morning it had stopped raining and we set off on a walk to the town of Pienza, about 13 km away through beautiful vineyards and olive groves and ploughed fields (which had also clearly been visited recently by that poo truck that followed us around Catalonia by the stench wafting through the air!)

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Now, I've come to realise that, with the exception of the Netherlands, there are no flat roads or walking trails in Europe! You can absolutely take my word for it!

Down along some dodgy path that had been labelled 'a pretty descent but rocky in parts' - although smiling, I don't think it's a genuine one...

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I have also learnt that when your destination is a village, there is definitely going to be a steady to steep climb involved, which makes going downhill all the more frustrating because you know that, ultimately, you are going to have to climb the same distance uphill and then some!

Looks can be deceptive and you are just going to have to trust me that the climb to Pienza on the top of that hill in the distance took another hour of steady climbing and the entire time I'm thinking - that's it I am hanging up my boots and poles! I'm happy to walk around a vineyard, pretty little cobblestone village, a shopping mall in Singapore or even on a treadmill in the hotel gym but no more hills/rocky tracks/steep steps - that's me done for this trip!!

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After all that effort, what I needed was pasta - my absolute favourite meal in the whole world, but it has to be good, there's too many calories involved to waste them on bad pasta! To date, the best spaghetti I have ever had is made by my brother - his spaghetti bolognese is legendary! However, sorry James, but the spaghetti I ate that night was the best thing I have ever tasted in my life!! It was a very simple 'white bolognese', made without tomatoes and so full of rich, peppery flavour, if we had stayed another night I would have gone back and had the exact same thing again but, sadly, we had to move on.

Worst photo of the best meal ever...

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The next morning it's time to pack up (again) and move on, not too far, just to a 'resort' outside Siena for three nights, which we had specifically chosen for the fact it was a bit out of the way, had a pool and a restaurant and, hopefully, we could have a bit of downtime before heading to Singapore and then home. I'm not sure what happened to the plan but, again, it's probably a case of we're here so we'd better visit San Gimignano, Siena and Monteriggioni, so that's what we did...

No regrets - Siena is one of the most beautiful places on earth...

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Ideally, we would also have visited a winery or two but we just didn't have the time, something Andrew does regret but a very good reason to come back one day!!!

It was, however, during this stay that our luck did change a little - firstly our car was side swiped by something whilst parked by the side of the road, which took the gloss off the day somewhat and we're yet to hear what the damage is on that one, but the guy at Avis was very apologetic about having to charge us when we returned it. However, by that stage we were in such a hurry, we didn't have time to discuss the details and here's why....

So, we are at our hotel, quietly enjoying a drink by the pool (about 12 kms outside Siena) and are due to return the car to Florence the next day, before making our way to the station to catch a train to Rome and then onto the airport for an 11 pm flight to Singapore via Doha. It wasn't a day I was really looking forward to, not being particularly partial to driving on the freeways in Italy, or waiting around in airports for late flights, but had resigned myself to a slow start to the morning and packing ready for a 12 noon check out, before hitting the road with plenty of time to spare to make our flight. It's about 6 pm and Andrew goes online to see if we can check in for our flights yet, only to find that I was still booked on those flights but he was not, his booking had completely disappeared!

Just to back track a little here, the whole trip was booked using frequent flyer points by Andrew (a massive feat in itself, costing a grand total of $421.00 for both us to fly around the world in business class) and all was going swimmingly (again, with the exception of the small Canadian visa issue) until we went to check in in Chicago for our flights to Barcelona via Madrid. We had wanted to book our bags all the way through to Barcelona, rather than having to collect them in Madrid and then check them in for the flight to Barcelona. For some reason the system was only allowing one of us to do this, it took some time and a few calls by the lady at the check in counter to her manager, but ultimately, "no problem, all sorted Mr Mooney". We were happy, didn't consider whether or not there would be any ramifications, boarded the flights and, sure enough, our bags appeared on the carousel in Barcelona. Awesome!

It was only when our British Airways flights were cancelled out of Barcelona to Amsterdam, due to the pilots strike and we needed to make other arrangements, that we realised that our bookings had been split in Chicago and we were now travelling on two separate bookings. Qantas assured us at the time that this wouldn't cause any problems at all as we were linked in their system. Well, maybe it would have been fine if we were travelling only on Qantas flights but the flights to Doha/Singapore were with Qatar. We'll probably never know but this seems to have been at the root of our problem here.

So, anyway, here we are in Tuscany, the night before we are to fly out and Andrew rings Qantas who confirm that there is a problem and he doesn't have a booking. I'm good to fly as planned but he doesn't have a seat - Qatar are claiming there are no seats left on these flights, in either business or economy. However, not to panic just yet, Qantas asked that we leave it with them and give them a call back in a couple of hours. So we finish our drinks by the pool, go to dinner and head back to the room to call Qantas again. "Sorry Mr Mooney, we are still working on this issue, unfortunately it's out of our control to some extent as they are Qatar flights so we need to work with them. We can, however, confirm you wont be able to travel on the original flights as your seats have already been sold. One solution we are investigating is whether we can get you both on the 4:30 flight out of Rome and an earlier connecting flight to Singapore. Can you ring us back in another couple of hours?"

By this stage it's 10:30 and, if we do need to make that 4:30 flight, we will need to scramble in the morning to get back to Florence, drop the car off at the airport, get to the train station, get tickets to Rome (assuming the original ones we had booked would be useless now) and then make our way from Rome to the airport, about 40 minutes away, for a 4:30 flight. So we make the decision to pack so we are ready to go if this does turn out to be the case. Now usually I'm a pretty neat, organised person but there were clothes, shoes, toiletry bags, wet socks and undies that had been drying in the bathroom, etc. etc. flying in all directions, but at least we are packed and in a position where we could move quickly if needed. We set the alarm for 1 am and try to get some sleep, of course we get no sleep. 1 am comes around and Andrew calls Qantas again, explains himself to the third person, who can find a record of the issue in the system which is now being dealt with by someone in Auckland who, in turn, is dealing directly with One World. The situation is looking pretty dire at this stage with the most likely scenario being both of us on the 11 pm flight to Doha (somehow they have now found a seat for Andrew on this flight but not the next one), then a 12 hour layover there, before a much later flight to Singapore. Very boring! By this stage we have done some research of our own and know that there are in fact seats on both the original flights and the earlier flights, they just don't have 'reward seats' available to match those we had booked.

It is now 3:30 in the morning and we have been told someone will call us back in a couple of hours. Having heard nothing by 6 am, and not having had a lot of sleep at all, we make the decision to pack the car, check out and make our way to Florence then Rome, so we are at least at the airport, so if a flight becomes available, even if we need to fly separately, we are ready.

I won't bore you with the details of our high speed check out, the 90 minute drive in pea soup like fog on the freeway along with semi trailers, wanna be Fangios, and morning commuters making their way to Florence, or the trip through Florence itself with Google taking us on the back streets and Andrew driving like a true Italian, to the rental car drop off centre. It was at this point that Qantas did ring back to let us know they had managed to secure us both seats on the 4:30 flight out of Rome, with an earlier connecting flight to Singapore, meaning we would arrive in Singapore 5 hours earlier than originally planned, and that they were going to essentially foot the bill for Andrew's tickets, as Qatar had been willing to change mine but not reinstate Andrew's without payment. Thank you Qantas! Hated you one minute, loved you the next!!

Great news, but we are still in Florence and need to make it to Rome, so we then take a taxi (yes, in this case a taxi was justified!) into the centre of Florence in peak hour traffic (not for the faint hearted let me tell you), deal with the fact there was yet another strike, this time by the Italian rail ticketing people (I don't think I have ever traveled by train in Italy when there hasn't been a strike of some sort.) Very luckily we already had tickets for a later train that we were able to change using the automated ticket machine (a minor miracle in itself) and made our way to Fiumicino airport - in the end we arrived with a couple of hours to spare, completely exhausted but giving ourselves some serious accolades for having had the foresight to get our act together so we were able to fly out early.

There are probably several lessons to be learnt here and questions to be asked of both Qantas and Qatar, and of ourselves in regard to the wisdom of booking your own travel (given the nature of the trip this wasn't really an option) but at the end of the day, we made it, again better off than we had originally been, with an earlier arrival in Singapore which in this case, came down to both a bit of luck, good management and awesome teamwork!

So we definitely deserve this pre-take off glass of bubbles and then some!!!

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Posted by janemooney 23:32 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Days 34

Lugano to Montepulciano - buses, trains, trams and automobiles...

rain 20 °C

On our last full day in Lugano Andrew got to work on doing something he loves (which didn't involve any more than 15,000 steps thank god!) and that is to challenge and defeat the local public transport system. I have learnt by now that it's just best to leave him to it, wait until he comes up for air a couple of hours of planning later and then basically succumb to whatever ingenious method he has determined will get us to our destination using the most means of transport possible. Basically I know any suggestion of a taxi will be scoffed at (what would be the fun in that?) and, ultimately, it gives him such a sense of achievement, I'm happy to fully support him! I just need to accept it and move along in his wake.

The mission, on this occasion, was to get us from our hotel in Lugano, to the train station about 6 kms away, then on the train to Florence via Milan, then to the hire car pick up point at Florence airport (no where near the Florence Station), from which we were due to pick up our car (the Florence train rental car office is closed on Sunday afternoon apparently - something we only became aware of the day prior, meaning a cancellation and re-booking was required which actually saved us over $100 - I have no idea why) to then drive to Montepulciano in the heart of Tuscany.

So, I went window shopping (I still can't buy anything because my suitcase is sitting right on 23 kgs, having gained 3 kg or so since leaving home for no good reason). By the time I get back, it was sorted and Andrew was as happy as he'd be if he'd been giving a free lift all the way there... the journey took us by the #2 bus from out the front of the hotel (I gather no guest has ever caught a bus on leaving before by the reaction we got from the concierge) to the train station, where trains were leaving despite a strike by railway workers which did create bedlam when we arrived in Milan where we needed to change trains for Florence, but no problem, because we actually had the physical tickets in our hands thanks to Andrew. Arriving in Florence we hopped on the T2 tram from the station to the airport, where we hopped on the shuttle to the rent a car station - the last hour in the pouring rain but, doesn't matter, we are in our hire car and off to Montepulciano!!!

And we're off, waiting for the bus at exactly 8:16am...
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The face if a happy man....
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Success...
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Now, the road rules in Italy appear to be just a suggestion, including the speed limit. While I'm white knuckling it in the passenger seat, cars (mostly Audis) were travelling past us at the speed of light, absolutely crazy and emotionally and physically exhausting for me at least. However, the most challenging part of the day was still to come as we entered the walled village of Montepulciano and navigated the skinny little cobbled streets, filled with tourists, locals, dogs and merchandise outside the little shops to find our hotel, park, drop the bags in and rush back to the car to drive it back out again to the carpark back outside the walls. It was honestly a big day, which called for a drink!

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It was still pretty wet and miserable when we arrived but we could definitely see the potential...

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The remainder of our Tuscan adventure will need to wait, we have another plane to catch, this time from Rome to Singapore via Doha, which has turned out to be the best flight drama story yet, but I'll fill you in on that in the coming days from our last stop Singapore, which we are very, very lucky to be heading to today!

Posted by janemooney 05:30 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Days 31, 32 and 33

Lugano - so much to do, so little time!

semi-overcast 21 °C

I think I've previously mentioned that we always knew this trip was going to be both a sprint and a marathon and that we were packing a lot into our 40+ days away. We recognised that, at some point, we'd need to slow down and fit some relaxation into the busy schedule or we would arrive home physical wrecks and more exhausted than before we left.

However, I think we are psychologically dealing with the fact we are coming to the end of this amazing trip and, hence, feel the need to pack in as much as we can everywhere we go! There's also the voice that tells you "we're in Lugano and who knows if or when we will be back, and you can't come to Lugano without climbing that mountain, doing that track around the lake shore, visiting that little village that is supposed to be the prettiest in Switzerland, etc. etc...." So, there's nothing you can do but take a few more Osteo Panadols and get out and do it!!! So that's what we did...

Firstly, to Lugano itself... I'm not sure what the actual definition of a city is, but Lugano calls itself a city, has a population of around 70,000 and is the third largest financial centre in Switzerland but it feels more like a village. Being so close to Italy, it feels very Italian, the language is largely Italian, the food Italian and they drink Prosecco for breakfast - I'm serious, they really do but, you will be pleased to know, I did not - that would be a very slippery slope indeed!!

With all of the above, plus views like this one from our balcony, who wouldn't want to get out there explore...we can rest in Tuscany or, possibly, worst case scenario, Singapore!

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With that in mind we got down to the serious business of choosing a couple of walks from what was a myriad of lake shore and mountain tracks and in the end we decided on one of each. Now, it's not that we don't do our research, we definitely do, but it seems the Swiss have a very different idea of 'Level of Difficulty - Easy to Moderate' than we do. The first walk we chose was a 8 km walk along the shores of Lake Lugano - sounds lovely, how hard can a nice amble alongside a lake be? So, not to be deterred by a little rain, we set off on the first of two boats involved in the trip...

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The boat drops us at a very deserted little wharf on the other side of the Lake and we are off and straight into it...first uphill...

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Then downhill...

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Here's the 20 metre flat bit (Jacinta, at this point I'm remembering that 'flat' clifftop walk we went on in the Blue Mountains :) )

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And lunch at an incredible little place that has you wondering why it exists, when the only way to get there is by boat, there is a chef plus the owner who serves us and I'm sure the only meals they have prepared all day are our one soup and one salad which is not going to keep them afloat for too long...

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So, with half the walk completed and a couple more panadols popped, we wait for the boat to ferry us back across the lake to the final part of our walk which takes back into Lugano - sights like this as the boat is coming into dock tend to take your mind off the aches and pains...

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I have to say at this point that I am constantly amazed at how quickly the body (and mind) bounce back. At the end of the day I was pretty well done in, or at least my legs and feet were, for the first time on the trip I was really questioning whether I had the energy to back up again the next day for our planned descent from the top of Mont San Salvatore (the largish mountain you can see on the other side of the lake in the above photo from our balcony). However, it's amazing what a really long shower, a couple of glasses of wine, some dinner and a good nights sleep can do and the next morning we are on the funicular on our way up that mountain...

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Andrew's photo of the technical specifications, just in case we need to sue someone...

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It's a long way up, which means it's a long way down to Mortone, the prettiest village in Switzerland - killing two birds with one stone on this trek!

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Now there were some amazing views and that little village was reasonably pretty but after a couple of hours of steep descent, every bone in my body was screaming 'enough already!', whilst simultaneously willing Andrew to stop taking photos of me in agony and help me down this bloody mountain!!

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And finally, Marcote - only about a million more steps to go...

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The next day, finally, we took a rest day! We slept in late, we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner in our cleanest clothes (still not totally fresh but fresher than our hiking clothes) and spent the day sorting out our train tickets for the next day's journey to Tuscany, whilst negotiating the ramifications of an Italian rail workers strike. No biggie, nothing's really bothering me too much at this stage as long as it doesn't involve putting one foot in front of the other. And, finally, a moment to sit and admire the view and enjoy a Prosecco or three...

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Thanks Lugano, I hope we will be back one day! In the meantime we are inching our way towards home....

Posted by janemooney 07:53 Archived in Switzerland Comments (1)

Days 29 and 30

Switzerland - Zurich and Lugano (Day 1)

sunny 18 °C

Ahhh, Switzerland - I had wanted to visit Switzerland since I was very young, probably 8 or 9, for a couple of reasons. Firstly I was a massive fan of Heidi (both the book and the movie)...in fact I wanted to be Heidi! I lived in flat, hot Adelaide and she lived in the cool Swiss Alps where the grass was green, there was snow, cows with cowbells and people yodeled and drank chocolate! The second memory is of two postcards arriving, at around the same age, from two of my aunties who had traveled to Switzerland. They were from the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia and I can only imagine they chose the destination because it was about as different as you could possibly get! Anyway the postcards showed some kind of ice cave with a little Swiss flag in the corner and the other a picture of the Alps with snow on them - I was absolutely green with envy and desperate to know why we couldn't go to Switzerland for our holiday rather than 50 kms down the road to Victor Harbour???

Eventually, about 20 years later, I did whiz through Lucerne in Switzerland on that epic Contiki tour. We stopped for one night, essentially so that half the bus could buy a cuckoo clock each (I resisted the temptation whilst at the same time wondering how the hell they were going to get them home) and we could sample fondue and witness a yodeler doing his thing in some cheesy (no pun intended) tourist restaurant whilst we all drank too many steins of German beer. I still can't figure out the connection with the German beer but, to this day, I can not stomach fondue, yodeling or beer. To say I was disappointed is a big understatement!! But, not to be defeated, I did visit Lucerne once more about 15 years ago and had a better experience, the air was clean, the lake crystal blue and those snow capped alps were clearly visible and very impressive.

So, this time around, when looking for the best way to get from Amsterdam to the lakes district in Northern Italy, and then somewhere to stay in that area for a few days of intended downtime, we chose to fly into Zurich, spend a night there and then take the train to Lugano, which I am embarrassed to admit, I had thought was in Italy but it's actually in Switzerland, just the other side of the Italian border. The ultimate outcome was five nights in Switzerland and it was everything I had imagined it to be when I was an 8 or 9 year old girl...or at least the countryside and landscape were.

Firstly a few things to know about Switzerland in general...

  • It is expensive - and I mean really expensive!! I had to stop doing the calculations after the first five minutes because it was just too depressing
  • English is not widely spoken - although to be fair Switzerland doesn't have it's own language and the inhabitants either speak French, German or Italian and it's a requirement to learn all three in school, so I can understand why English would be a fairly low priority. Now languages are definitely not my forte and bearing in mind that, by this point, we had been doing our best to make some attempt at Japanese, Spanish/Catalan and Dutch, just to be polite, I was completely at a loss for the majority of the five days
  • Apparently it's illegal to own only one guinea pig in Switzerland - this is considered an act of animal cruelty as it denies the guinea pig the chance to make friends. I'm serious!!
  • People in Switzerland smoke a lot - which for some reason I found surprising - and often it is a cigar that they are smoking. Urgghh, it's enough to totally put you off your hot chocolate!

Anyway, first stop Zurich...

A picture perfect little city, on a beautiful lake, that's famous for banking, watches and chocolate.

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Within a few minutes of landing it became very obvious there were about as many Porches in Zurich as there were bikes in Amsterdam. A lot of people in this city have a lot of money!!

Anyway, first off, we need to find some lunch so we head into the old town and find ourselves criss-crossing the River Limmat and wandering through an amazing labyrinth of tiny cobbled laneways opening out onto beautiful piazzas...

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So we find somewhere to sit at an outdoor table, with only one out of six other diners smoking (not a bad ratio) and the only thing impacting our enjoyment was the smell of, what I thought was, a stinky rubbish truck that had parked in the adjacent square. It really stank and I was relieved to see it leave a few minutes later... only problem, the smell was still there and it stayed. It took about ten minutes to figure out the smell hadn't been coming from the truck but was actually the fondue restaurant next door! I couldn't believe I hadn't remembered that smell from 1991!!

A quick detour from the standard travel blog here to share another Zurich moment...I had a bit of a reality check that evening that came with a surprising little incident, that left me completely dumbfounded....

We are at dinner in a very nice Italian restaurant (always the go to when you are in doubt and the country's national cuisine of choice is fondue) and I head to the bathroom. So as I was standing there waiting for the toilet to flush itself and realised it's probably time to go home when you just expect these things will take care of themselves. Ultimately it didn't flush itself so I look around for some kind of panel to wave my hand in front of, eventually I find a kind of button thing on the side which I hit.... and then this happened...

OK then, now I have seen absolutely everything!

Anyway, all too soon the next day came around and, after a quick hour walk along the lake shore we head to the train station, heading for Lugano and the thought of a four night stop - luxury! Again the weather is holding and our first views of Lake Lugano are stunning and slightly bewildering...

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It turns out those icebergs are silver, not ice - not something you see everyday!

Just a few more photos of the Lake because I can't resist...

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All those mountains and shorelines you see in the distance will be walked and climbed in my next posts...

In the meantime, I'm signing off from our latest destination in Montepulciano, Tuscany (yep, I'm a still a few days behind but hoping to catch up soon...) and here's an action shot...

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Not too shabby!!!

Posted by janemooney 07:15 Archived in Switzerland Comments (2)

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