A Travellerspoint blog

Stresa, Italia...

Why Stresa? On the two occasions I went to Italy from Switzerland by train, I would always pass this small village by Lake Maggiore upon arriving in Italy and was struck by its beauty. Well this time, it was my destination...

sunny 30 °C

Why Stresa? On the two occasions I went to Italy from Switzerland by train, I would always pass this small village by Lake Maggiore upon arriving in Italy and was struck by its beauty. Well this time, it was my destination...

But first, something that hit me about Switzerland. Four years ago, you never saw policemen at the train stations in Switzerland. Switzerland to me remains the place where you can forget your luggage on the quay at the train station and it will still be there hours later with nobody dreaming of stealing it. Perhaps no longer? This year, there are police at every major and medium train station that I saw in the French speaking part of Switzerland which surprises me.

On the morning of my trip, I was leaving Allaman by train with 8 minutes to make a connection in Lausanne for my train to Stresa. I was a little worried when my first train arrived 4 minutes late which is basically unheard of in Switzerland. As I boarded the train, I noticed right next to my seat that there were 4 guys acting a little oddly... Sure enough, on the ride from Allaman to Lausanne, the controller wanted their tickets. The only one of the 4 awake claimed that his "sleeping" buddy had the ticket. The controller asked the guy to wake his buddy, but the buddy wouldn't wake up. The controller said he'd pass back in a little while.

Arriving into Morges a few minutes later, I noticed the controller get off the train, walk up to the police officers stationed there and they boarded the train. The police then asked the awakened of the 4 to get off the train and they then proceeded to "wake up" the other 3. They were then taken off the train and search and questioned there. Tick-tock... My 4 minutes left of time to catch my next train was vanishing when an annoucement said that the train would remain another 5 minutes in Morges due to a police operation. I could see the policemen searching the 4, none of which had a ticket. They had been feigning sleep to avoid having to buy a ticket... Anyhow, I was a little worried I'd miss my connection when an announcement asked all passengers for Milano Centrale (which stops in Stresa) to get off and catch the train on the opposite track that was leaving immediately. Phew! Made it to Lausanne in time to catch my train.

As for Stresa... It has been a tourist destinations for over a century and was a vacation destination for aristocrats for several centuries due to its beauty. Other than the lake and the mountains, there are also three tiny islands with buildings on them which add to the intrigue of the area:
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Anyhow, I spent three days visiting the area, hiking (down) from Mottarone and visiting Isola Bella and Isola Superiore and enjoying italian food, in particular taglione con porcini e crema tartufo and of course, lots and lots of gelati (though surprisingly, it took me 11 hours in a hot and sunny 30C day to make the association of hot-Italy-gelati... Obviously, I caught up big time on the second day... Best flavours were pana cotta and amarena).

Two of the three islands (Isola Bella and Isola Madre) are owned by Borromeo family of which I visited only the first that has a beautiful palace and terraced (10) italian gardens. I also spent time on Isola Superiore (Isola dei pescatori) or the fisherman's island which used to be a fishing village but at this point is mostly a tourist destination.

Here are the pictures:
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I enjoyed my brief stay in Italy immensely.

Posted by CVMB2010 02:01 Archived in Italy Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Quick hop to Sankt Gallen and Wil

all seasons in one day 24 °C

A quick hop to Sankt Gallen and Wil to see the Unesco World Heritage site of the St.Gallen Abbey Precinct and to visit Beat in Wil. It does amuse me that you can cross Switzerland in under 4 hours by train when it takes longer than 6 by plane to cross Canada :-)

St.Gallen:

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Old town of Wil (thanks Beat for showing me around!):

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and the rather amusing Stinkgässli street where pigs used to be kept as well as garbage dumped and there was even a long drop toilet giving directly onto the street. Obviously today, the street no longer smells but makes for a good story.
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And a few pictures as seen from the train returning to the Lake Leman area close to where I worked for 4 years:

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Posted by CVMB2010 01:42 Archived in Switzerland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Bagnes...

Bagnes... Mmmm... One of my favourite cheeses (you can eat it straight, or in raclette or fondue)... Oh, it's also a valley in Switzerland (Val de Bagnes) which is where the cheese comes from and where I went camping a couple of days.

sunny 24 °C

Bagnes... MMmmm... One of my favourite cheeses (you can eat it straight, or melted in raclette or fondue or heaps of other ways)... Oh, it's also a valley in Switzerland (Val de Bagnes) which is where the cheese comes from and where I went camping a couple of days.

The Val de Bagnes is in the part of Switzerland called Valais and is close to the southernmost tip of Switzerland. At the top of the valley, there is a an arch dam that is the second largest in the world with a height of 250.5m (at 1975m or 6500' of altitude) and a length of 520m holding up to 204 million cubic metres of water. The lake formed behind it covers 226 ha (558 acres) and has a length of approximately 5km. It is an impressive piece of engineering that was built between 1951 and 1958.

Here are some pictures from around the camping site and up to the dam...
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Posted by CVMB2010 07:05 Archived in Switzerland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

La Côte...

Area of Switzerland where I lived for 4.5 years or so from 2002 to 2006...

Here are a few pictures of my first week in Switzerland. As I lived here for a few years, I won't be systematically taking pictures as this is still sort of "home" for me.

Here are a few nonetheless...

The house where I lived for a few years:
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The view from the house where I lived:
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Morges, the city where my aunt and uncle live is next to Lake Leman, a nice spot:
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And finally, a very talkative red-tailed bird that was following me around in Aubonne:
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Cheers!

Posted by CVMB2010 04:13 Archived in Switzerland Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

The Adventure Begins...

Or how RTW tickets can be a bit of a pain...

My first adventure started at Pierre-Elliot-Trudeau airport, two hours before I was supposed to leave Montreal. My flight booking didn't show up on the self-service interface at the airport which I found to be a very inauspicious start to my trip. It turns out that when somebody on the other end of the planet doesn't understand when you say "I want to change my ticket from the 17th to the 14th", it is best to keep insisting, rather than say "I want to leave tomorrow" because depending on the time of day, the other person may already be living "tomorrow" and give you a booking for the day after tomorrow... Oops! All is well as there was room left on the airplane.

How it all happened, or business logic...

RTW (Round-the-world) tickets with Star Alliance, are priced based on the number of miles that will be flown (or/and covered with ground segments). The options are less than 29'000 miles, 29'000 to 33'000 miles, 33'000 to 36'000 miles, 36'000 to 39'000 miles. My original flight that included New Zealand was a little over 36'000 miles so it put me in the most expensive category and I booked it in April. As I decided to cut out NZ a few weeks ago, I checked how much the ticket would cost if I bought it today. 750$ less! So I called Star Alliance asking them if they would reimburse me the difference.

"No sir, we don't compensate you for a reduction of planned mileage."
"Okay, but if I had booked a much shorter flight and then asked to add a destination like New Zealand, you would then charge me the increase in rate, right?"
"Yes sir..."
"Does that seem logical or fair to you?"
"That's the way it works, sir..."
"Okay, so what you're saying is that I should cancel my ticket for a penalty of 150$ (penalty that I'd pay anyway by removing NZ), and then book a brand new ticket for 750$ cheaper, right?"
"Have you already started your trip?"
"No..."
"Can I put you on hold, sir, while I check something?"
...
...
...
"Sir, we could reimburse you the airport taxes of the airports you are not going to fly to" (That would make a difference of about 60$, ie less than 10% of the difference...)
"Hmm... I think I'll cancel my ticket instead and just book a new one..."
"Okay, but I should warn you that your credit card won't be credited the amount for the first flight for 8 weeks or so..."
"That's fine, please cancel my ticket..."

I must point out that other than the odd reimbursement/charging policy, the people at Star Alliance (ok, I should probably say Lufthansa as they are the ones managing it for me) have been perfectly friendly and efficient...)

So then, I had to book a new ticket via the web interface, but unfortunately the system won't allow you to book the first flight less than three days before the start and it was the 13th (ok, evidence that I am a bit of a procrastinator, on occasion). So I booked for the 17th and then called to get the ticket changed. The lady didn't understand that I had booked for the 17th but wanted to leave on the 14th... I ended up insisting that I wanted to leave "tomorrow", but "tomorrow" when it is 10pm in Montreal, is "today" 4am when the person on the other end of the line is in Frankfurt, Germany... So then there tomorrow becomes my day-after-tomorrow... :-D

Sigh!...

Posted by CVMB2010 13:45 Archived in Canada Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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