A Travellerspoint blog

Switzerland

Our journey to Switzerland started with two metro changes to get to the train station, then one 3hr train to Basel and lastly a train change for the 2hr train ride to Interlaken. The highlight of the journey was from Paris to Basel when the train reached 319km per hour. The small town Watson's were watching the speed climb on the screens in the carriages with quite the excitement.

Our accommodation in Interlaken is a lovely B&B run by Tim and Kat an Aussie/Uk couple who have lived and worked in Interlaken for nearly 20 years. "The Aarburg" is situated on the Kleine Aare (River) and has great views over the mountain ranges including the Jungfrau.
The town had a Queenstown feel to it with everything is based around adventure tourism.

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Our accommodation The Aarburg

Our first night we decided to have Indian. The town has a huge number of Indian, Lebanese and Arabic restaurants which we discovered later were because of the boom in tourism from those regions. The excitement of a curry soon disappeared when we saw the prices. $40-$45 NZ for a Butter chicken! After looking at another couple of restaurants with similar pricing we had our first realization that this place was going to be expensive.

Our first day in Interlaken we cruised the town and did some shopping. The kids all bought themselves Swiss Army knives. Bella's was $30 with her name engraved on it - $15 cheaper than a butter chicken! You can see where this is going aye.
That afternoon we were booked on a Monster Scooter tour for which we were the only participants. Our guide was Anna another Aussie who has made Interlarken her home. We were driven to a gondola and taken up Isenfluh, Lauterbrunnen. We then got to ride scooters on steroids (big fat tyres) down the road back to where the van was parked. It was a fun activity but perhaps not as out there as we might have imagined.

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Monster Scootering

On our last day, we went to the Adventure Park in the morning. Tim from the B&B used to work for them had given us free entry passes which we gratefully used saving us $275. We spent 3 hours there having a brilliant time. There were about 20 different courses you could use all with high ropes and zip lines. The kids went off like monkeys up the trees while Rach and I were more conservative! Just took a little while to have full confidence in the safety mechanisms.

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Fun at the Adventure Park

Afterward, we wandered thru town to have a look at Lake Brientz which is located at the end of Interlaken town. The views around the lake and surrounding hills and mountains are stunning. On our way back through town, Rach noticed a small tram heading up a mountain behind us. After checking it out we went up Harderkulm on a tram that goes up a vertical climb of 64% gradient. The views at the top were lovely.

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We liked the look of this house with boat parking
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The top of Harderkulm
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The view of Interlaken with lakes either end

Our time in Interlaken was nice but we felt after Cortina D'Ampezzo we had been spoilt. It didn't have the wow factor of the Dolomites and with the costs, it wasn't possible for the 5 of us to do the activities on offer. For example the train up the Jungfrau $2000, Paragliding $1500 (Angus enjoy!)
I would have loved to do the train up to Jungfrau but after talking to Tim at the Aarburg said it's not worth it and it was covered in cloud most of the weekend we were there.

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A clear view of Jungfrau on our last morning at breakfast

So that was Switzerland. A brief but enjoyable visit. Last stop Paris before we are homeward bound

Posted by Watson5 08:04 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Paris

Big city sights

Bit of a mission to get to Paris starting with a gondola ride, then taxi to Venice and a flight to Paris. Funnily enough, the kids were excited to be out of buses and back on a plane. We were all glad to be down near sea level again and getting rid of our altitude hangovers. You basically feel headachey and tired as sleeping at altitude is more difficult.

Our accommodation in Paris was at the Yooma Hostel. It's a very cool hostel modern and clean with a great communal lounge/ bar area. Our room slept 6 with a double bed and two sets of bunks. The bunks were quirky in that they all had sliding doors to pull across. The kids loved sleeping in their cupboards. It was a fantastic location only a 10 min walk to the Eiffel Tower

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We made it to Paris!
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The kids in their cupboards

Our first day saw us take an early train out to Le Havre to see the NZ Womens Football Team vs Holland in the World Cup. A bit of a mission to get there via the metro and train however we got to chat to the deputy NZ ambassador as well as being interviewed by FIFA TV crew so the 2 1/2 hours passed more quickly. In all honesty, I would have been quite happy to crawl under the seat as everyone knows I'm not a huge footy fan and was fearful of being asked something I was unable to answer. The bag check at the entrance gate was interesting with me being unable to take in my drink bottle, a 20ml bottle of alcohol hand gel and my kindle - go figure! There was a fantastic atmosphere and despite us being very much a minority in a sea of orange, there was lots of chat and light-hearted banter with the surrounding dutch supporters. The NZ girls played really well holding off the Dutch until the last 5 mins of the game when they managed to sneak in a goal. A long trip back to Paris had us in bed exhausted at 11 pm.

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Supporting our team

Next day we hit the road again to take in the city sights - the Eiffel tower, poor old Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe as well as a spot of shopping. Paris is a beautiful city which never fails to impress. We especially enjoyed watching a storm roll in from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Breakfast was crepes and lunch pasta. The restaurant prices are not for the faint hearted though. The French people, on the whole, have been very friendly and helpful aside from the waiter who tried to tell us we needed to pay him a 20% tip.

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Notre Dame under repair
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The Louvre
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Arc de Triomphe
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A storm rolls in
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Toby in his happy place

Our last day in Paris was one the kids had been looking forward to. A day at Disneyland Paris - you know - the "happiest place on earth". It was a really fun day including ending up on thrilling rides that we weren't expecting especially poor old Matt who is not a big fan of roller coasters. The queues weren't too bad, mostly around half an hour. We all enjoyed our $15 hotdogs and finally managed to drag the kids away returning back to the hostel after another 12 hour day.

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Fun times

So that was our whirlwind trip to Paris. Next, we're off to Switzerland. We return to Paris after that prior to heading back to NZ so there's time to see some more Parisienne sights.

Posted by Watson5 13:31 Archived in France Comments (3)

Cortina D'Ampezzo

Snow!


We had an uneventful transfer from Postjana across the border into Italy and up into the Dolomites to Cortina D'Ampezzo. The border crossing was our first open border for a month so it was great not to have to stop and go through the drama of being processed in and out of each country.
Our accommodation for the first 3 nights was in an apartment in the town before moving to a mountain hut for the following two nights.

Our first impression of the town is "chiuso" or closed! Shops, bars, restaurants, and activities more than half were still closed from the break after winter. It was a real downer at first with all the cool activities planned having to be scrapped. But as you do we adapted and ended up having an amazing time.

The town was like a postcard picture. It looked very Swiss with all the chalets dotted around the rolling green hills at the foot of the rugged mountain ranges. The view from our accommodation was worth the visit.

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The view from our apartment

Because we were no longer paying to go Ice skating, the Adrenalin Forest or on the towns two Gondolas Rach suggested we hire E-Bikes as a treat. It was a fantastic idea and we had a blast on them covering 60km which was a lot more than we would have managed on normal mountain bikes. We stopped off at cool little bars and restaurants along the way and made a big day of it. Starting at 1200m and getting up to over 2000m at the highest point at Rifugio Vallandro, where the kids were very excited to see snow. They had no idea was coming in a few days!

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Refreshment stop
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e-biking fun

We also did some walks around the town. Making the trek to a lake nearby which had a restaurant where we were going to have lunch. But true to form it was Chiuso. Even though we had been told it was open!

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Toby takes a rest
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Holly reinacting "The Sound of Music"

The 2 days we had in Cortina D'Ampezzo were great but with the town still waking up for the summer season so we were sadly a few weeks early arriving. That was a bit of a worry for me as our next 2 nights were the opening nights for the summer season in Rifugio Lagazuoi which is a mountain hut up at 2750m.

Our move to the Rifugio started in a taxi taking us the 20km to the Falzarego Lagazuoi (Gondola). The gondola ride was a mere 3 minutes taking us from 2100m up to 2750m. The scenery from the top was jaw-dropping, 360-degree views of the most beautiful mountain ranges we had ever seen.
We had 2 rooms to accommodate us so Bella and I shared a room while Holly, Toby, and Rach roomed in together next door. In total, about 100 people stay each night at the rifugio and ranged from those just enjoying the surrounds to the hardcore trekkers who had hiked up to 30km in knee to thigh deep snow to get there.

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The red circle indicates where the Gondola started from - a big climb for 3 minutes
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The deck of the rifugio - most days warm enough to sit our in a tshirt.

We spent the next 2 days sipping hot chocolates and coffees on the deck and enjoying the amazing views. The food was great and the staff very friendly and chatty. We did venture out into the knee-deep snow to explore and a family snow fight until we all got frozen fingers and feet and returned to the hut for warm showers and hot drinks.

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Snow is not something our kids have spent much time in - the novelty wore off when the fingers and toes froze
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The drying room came in handy. Warm air blew out of the yellow pipes into your wet shoes

We also got to see incredible sunsets and sunrises. On the first morning, Bella and I went out onto the deck at 4.45am and joined the other 30 odd watching the most beautiful sunrise. We watched for an hour and a half in a balmy 3 degrees as the sun came up over the mountain range and lit up the valleys below. We felt we deserved our 6.30am breakfast that morning! We've noticed this side of the world certainly seem to have more than there share of sunlight with sunset at 9.50pm and sunrise at 5.15am. We understand why there are shutters on all the windows

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On one of our ventures out into the snow, we checked out some of the tunnels excavated during WW1. This area was on the Austrian-Italian border and for 3 long years saw fighting in -40 degrees during the winter. It's referred to the "White War" for obvious reasons. Most of the casualties in the region were from avalanches, mine explosions or freezing to death. It must have been horrific fighting at this altitude during the war.

The downside of being at high altitude was once again the effects of altitude sickness on us Watson's. After Peru, I promised the family no more going above 2000m and here we were. I get it the worst and the feeling is like a terrible hangover and not being able to breathe properly. The 2 nights sleeping were ok but I don't think I could handle staying any longer.

We all loved the time we spent in the Rifugio and in the Dolomites. It's up there as one of the best experiences on this trip.

Our next move is a big one-Gondola down off the mountain, drive 2.5hrs to Venice airport and then fly to Paris.
We are getting closer to being homeward bound.

Posted by Watson5 12:58 Comments (2)

Postojna

Underground overground

Our trip from Rovinj to Postojna felt very easy and comfortable. We had booked a private transfer and because there are 5 of us we get a very spacious van. The 2 1/2 hour journey from Croatia to Slovenia was picturesque, time flew by. Interesting to note when we crossed the border into Slovenia that all of the road signs were in Italian as well as Slovenian. We had a planned stop at Piran. Our driver Dragan dropped us at the top of the walled city and we wandered down through the streets to the coastline. Another stunning city which happened to be very hot on the day we visited. We wandered around the town feeling like we were melting - confirmed when we stumbled upon a digital thermometer telling us it was in fact 35 degrees. After a quick lunch, we hit the road again for a short trip to Postojana our home for just two nights at the Hotel Jama. Our first stay in a hotel for the trip. The kids were excited comfy beds, plush sheets and free shampoo according to them. We've had some interesting beds along the way - falling apart, incredibly squeaky, linen too small for the bed. Funny in Croatia it seems to be the thing just to put two single duvets on a king size bed - guess it saves arguments about who is stealing the sheets.

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Piran

Our mission was to explore the stunning Postojna cave. The scale of this cave system is just out of this world. In total it is 24km long and was discovered 200 years ago. We got to see 5 km of the cave beginning with a 3.5km train journey then a 1.5km walk, then back out on the train. They pack through the visitors but in general, it was a well-organised operation. We've always been wowed by the beauty of the Ngarua Caves at the top of the Takaka hill well this one just blew our mind. The spaces were vast including a space called the ballroom complete with Murano glass chandeliers and an auditorium where concerts were once held. We went down to a depth of 120 metres, we saw literally thousands of beautiful limestone Karsts (stalagmites and stalactites) each taking 1000 years to grow 1cm. Some hanging from the ceiling as thin a dry spaghetti others 5 metres tall with a 3-metre circumference. Our photos don't really do it justice but it certainly was another once in a lifetime experience. The caves have been a tourist destination since 1819 and to date, they estimated 38 million visitors have since passed through.

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our ride in
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Inside the cave 120 metres below ground

Our tickets also included entry to the cave expo where were learnt about how the cave formed and also the vivarium where we got to see the types of organisms that live in the cave including the famous Ohlm or "baby dragon" which looks like a colourless axolotl with no eyes and can live without food for 10 years - what a shame our kids don't possess that skill. Later in the afternoon we took a taxi to Predjama Castle - described as "a fairytale castle embraced by rock" it is said to be the largest cave castle in the world. We enjoyed wandering the various rooms of the castle and adjoining cave, listening to the audio guide stories of its history and inhabitants.

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Predjama Castle
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Bit cold and damp for the castle dwellers

One further observation is the number of people who smoke in Europe and it's allowed in restaurants and public spaces. The kids are astounded - we know no smokers at home and yet it seems that the majority of people do here. The problem is not helped by cigarettes costing a mere $5 a pack. The other thing we're struggling with is getting a decent sized cup of coffee that is hot. Even in Italy - I think if we were expresso drinkers we'd be fine but man are we looking forward to an enjoyable cup.

Our short visit to Slovenia was complete, another stunning country with its beautiful green countryside and rolling hills. The end is drawing near on our epic trip. It's time to move on to our next and fourth to last stop.

Posted by Watson5 07:33 Archived in Slovenia Comments (2)

Rovinj - Croatia

Or favourite so far .......

We left Zadar during a thunderstorm and the heaviest rain of the trip. We all piled into the minivan which was taking us to Rovinj via Plitvice lakes a journey of 360km. After just under 2 hours we arrived at the lakes and meet up with Rach's sister and brother in law Tracey and Bryan who are also travelling around Europe. It's always nice seeing family or friends when you're away - we had a great 2 hours walking around the lakes and catching up over lunch. The rain meant the waterfalls were spectacular and by the time we walked, it had softened into a misty drizzle which added to the surrounds. The highlight is the great waterfall which is aptly named!

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Plenty of water at Plitvice Lakes

We had a quick change out of our clothes and it was back into the van. Ivan our driver was great and got us to Rovinj from the lakes in another 4 hours. Our accommodation in Rovinj was another apartment in the old town. It was short of beds so Holly is slept on the couch in the lounge with Bella on a sofa bed in one of the bedrooms. Rovinj is a picture postcard town. The beautiful old buildings lined with cobbled stoned alleys on a peninsula surrounded by the Istrian sea.

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The old town of Rovinj

Even the shops have a seaside village feel. Everyone is friendly and seem genuinely happy to be here. Each time we arrive in a new town we are wowed by the beauty thinking it can't get any prettier - until the next one

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"Wok About" for dinner
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Perfect spot to enjoy our yummy takeaways
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Restaurants and shops brimming with character

We happily spent our days taking walks around the town. The girls call it shopping but as they never buy anything it's more like taking hundreds of 20m walks over a few hours. There's also a lovely waterfront and a park area to wander in. We've managed a few swims with the temperature getting up to 30 degrees (It's jumped from 20 degrees to 30 in the space of a couple of days) We found an inflatable waterpark on one of our walks so we've visited here a few times. My clicking ankles, bad back and neck have really appreciated it!

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Even doing laundry was a pleasure in this town!

There happens to be an F44 boat race in Rovinj during our stay so there are some stunning yachts in the harbour following the racing. Of course accompanied by the "well healed" yachting followers.

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The yachts commence their days racing

We made one excursion during our 4 days in Rovinj. Taking the bus to Pula 30km away. Pula has one of the most intact amphitheatres in the world. Situated on the waterfront you get a real feel of what it was like 2000 years ago when it was being built. Pula also has a historic centre with plenty to see. Kids also got some excitement in the form of Go Karting. The karts were great fun, we all had a blast. They were a lot faster than the ones we have driven in Nelson and they weren't big on safety - we had to request helmets!

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Pula Arena
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Karting fun

On Saturday evening Toby, Holly and I decided to watch the Champions League final which started at 9pm. We booked a table at an outside restaurant which was playing the game on their tv. The short story was the game was crap.

Rach: Bella and I had decided on a different path for the evening opting for one of the waterfront restaurants to watch the sunset. I enjoyed her perspective on travel, her highlights and her insight that if we were travelling and managing to live out of one backpack each why did we need all the "stuff" we had at home. After a nice dinner, we wandered around the peninsula to check out what turned out to be the opening party for the new "Grand Hotel" It was a very plush affair complete with red carpet and was set on the beach with the entertainment out on a big pontoon. Obviously we couldn't get in so we joined others on the bank of a neighbouring hotel with a primo spot to see the action. The entertainment finally kicked off around 9pm with some fantastic music by a top Cellist Stjepan Hauser who is known for his instrumental arrangements of pop and rock songs - Bella was in awe, one of her favourite instruments played with such passion accompanied by brilliant lighting. Next, the compere announced first in Croatian and then in English that the next act was one of the world most famous singers. We were astounded when his next words were "Andrea Bocelli" To see him live in this beautiful setting for free with a closer view than I've had at most concerts was a real-life highlight. Bella was also beside herself her familiarity with him came from his duo with Ed Sheran. We were texting Matt and knowing he'd not want to miss it but also realising he would be unlikely to get there in time

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Stunning sounds and setting

Matt: With 5mins in the game to go, we made a dash around the waterfront to where the concert was. It was 11 pm and the 2km run seemed to take forever. We got to the concert area to meet Rach and Bella and by luck hear Bocelli come out to sing again. It was just lovely to listen to him and a special moment to hear him sing "Time to Say Goodbye"
The night was capped off with an amazing booming fireworks display. Just perfect!

Rovinj has been a highlight of Croatia and a great way to finish our time here.
Tomorrow it's across the border to Postjana in Slovenia.

Just Stunning!
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Posted by Watson5 08:28 Archived in Croatia Comments (5)

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