Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Zermatt - Matterhorn

Last weekend my parents came to visit Linda and I in Switzerland and I thought a good way to introduce them to the country would be to meet them in Zermatt, halfway between Vevey and Milan where they were arriving from.

We were extremely lucky with the weather, which was clear and warm and very little wind. We were also lucky with the timing - between seasons so the town was relatively quiet. [not so lucky for Linda, she was inundated with work and spent the whole weekend in the hotel room working.]

The first thing that strikes you in Zermatt is, of course, the Matterhorn, which looms large over the town.

On our first day there we caught the little train up to Gornergrat, which supposedly has the highest shopping center in the alps (or something like that) at 3089m altitude. Of course we were more interested in the view than the shopping, and the view certainly was amazing, taking in the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa.

You could also see the Gornergletscher glacier flowing down from Monte Rosa.

I introduced my parents to the famous Swiss Rôsti for dinner. Delicious and heart-attack inducing as it should be.

The next day we caught multiple lifts all the way to the top of the Klein Matterhorn (or Matterhorn glacier paradise in marketing-speak), which has another incredible view of the surrounding mountains. The altitude of 4100m meant we were all a little light-headed at the top and actually felt happy to descend one stop back down the mountain for lunch.

We then walked down from one of the lower lifts, through the forest back into Zermatt.

By the time we were back in town it was time to jump on a train and head into Vevey. I think my parents were duly impressed by their first exposure to Switzerland.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

One year on

I looked at the calendar the other day and realised we had now been overseas for a year. We had set out on the 3rd of April 2007, landing in Italy soon after, and since then we have been very busy indeed. I guess changing countries and languages 4 months in didn't help in that regard.

In fact sometimes it has indeed seemed like hard work being overseas, and sometimes we have to wonder if we wouldn't be just as happy sitting on a beach in Coogee. But then we remember we're here for an adventure and adventures generally involve taking risks and overcoming obstacles to reap the rewards.

The weekend closest to our anniversary here happened to be a spectacularly clear day and we picnicked by the lake, eating home-made hot-cross buns made as a delayed easter celebration (amazingly they don't seem make them over here).

Looking out at the view of the mountains rising up over the lake made us remember that here we were, living overseas in an amazing place, and how lucky we were to have this opportunity.

Monday, 21 April 2008


It is almost the end of the ski season so I thought I should take it out with a bit of a bang, particularly since we missed most of it, having bought our own skis late in the season. Plus Linda was in Barcelona and I wasn't going to stay home feeling sorry for myself.

It is only about an hour and a half from Vevey to Verbier, making it actually one of the closest resorts to where we live, and it is certainly a major resort.

Having never been to Verbier it took me a while to find the right route up the mountain, taking multiple bus-sized ski lifts to the top of Mont Fort, at over 3300m altitude.

They had a speed skiing track set up, and there were skiers wearing the shiny suits, silly helmets and with skis that must have been about 2.5m long, but they didn't get to do their 200km/h runs because of the 15km wind (apparently a big deal at 200km/h).

Anyway the good news for me was that this meant the track was opened to the public so I got to ski down the track (turning the whole way of course). Now I'm even more convinced these people are crazy.

I had an incredibly unhealthy looking croute au fromage et lardons for lunch which was, of course, delicious, and I skied the remainder of the day on the resulting calories.

Anyway today I am sore all over from the very full day of skiing and will happily sit out the spring waiting for the snow to melt so I can walk the same mountains in the sunshine.

Saturday, 12 April 2008


Last weekend we took the train to Geneva for the CERN Large Hadron Collider open day, the last open day before it 'turns on' in Summer this year.

This is the accelerator they hope will locate the Higgs boson particle, which is the theorised particle physicists hope will form the last piece of the standard model.

The accelerator itself is 27km in circumference, so of course you only see a small part of the ring itself. Indeed we didn't actually see any of the acclerator ring at all, but only the ATLAS detector, which is just one of many experiments taking place around the ring. Its difficult to fully grasp the scale of this experiment, as you can only ever see a tiny part of it at once (the cool looking building is actually an exhibition hall, ATLAS being housed in a more warehouse looking building).

Anyway we were lucky to even get in to see ATLAS, since the public transport was in complete disarray and it took hours to get there and back from Vevey (Linda helpfully kept reminding me that we should have driven there instead). Apparently 50,000 people came to see the LHC that day.

We bought ourselves a few bits and bobs to remind ourselves of our trip, and will be able to look back on it in 10 years time when they finally announce whether they have actually found anything in their experiments. I believe they are already planning an even bigger accelerator!

Monday, 7 April 2008

Chateau de Chillon

Last weekend we caught the ferry from Vevey to Chateau de Chillon near Montreaux.

We'd been meaning to go and visit the Chateau for a long time, but had been waiting for a nice clear day that we were actually in town for. Finally such a day came about so off we went!

The Chateau itself has been rebuilt and remodelled many times over the years but its location and history make it a very interesting place to visit.

We had a really nice day wandering around the Chateau, learning about its history and its residents, captives and famous visitors. It was such an easy trip its amazing we hadn't got around to it before now. I guess its always the case that it's those things in your own back yard you never get around to seeing.

All my photos from Chateau Chillon can be found here.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Budapest - Epilogue

When you check into EasyJet online you get a printed boarding pass that puts you in Group A. What this means is you get to board the plane after the Speedy Boarders, who pay extra to get one of those precious seats at the front of the plane, and before the lowly Group C passengers.

What you don't get, in either case, is to avoid the ridiculous crush at the boarding gate when everyone tries to pretend they belong to a different group and sneak onto the plane. This was made even worse at Budapest because, after the gate, they just put you on a mixed bus anyway, completely destroying any benefit of superior boarding group.

Anyway we somehow managed to get the last pair of seats together on the plane and watched the time to see if we would make it back to Geneva for the last train home. I SMS'd the SBB to check their timetable and it said the last train was at 12:20pm so I was reasonably confident still.

We landed and everyone leapt up to grab their overhead baggage and then stood around waiting in the awkward space for the doors to actually open. We bolted along the corridors, past passport control, and jogged towards the station, only to find my SMS timetable had lied and we had indeed missed the last train out by only a few minutes.

We spent some time walking around the airport disbelieving that there was no alternative way to get home before finally biting the bullet and jumping in a taxi. The taxi driver thought it was his lucky night.

Taxis in Switzerland are notoriously expensive, and we watched anxiously as the meter climbed ever higher as we drove slowly home through the heavy snow. By the time we reached Vevey we had hit 350 CHF, which I painfully withdrew from the ATM.

To top it all off I somehow strained my neck (possibly from watching the meter ticking over), and had a terrible night's sleep. I stayed home from work the next day, feeling tired, sore, and sorry for myself.

The moral of the story, I think, is don't fly the last flight into Geneva, particularly with EasyJet. Next time we will certainly have some contingency plans in place.

Budapest - Part 3

Our last day in Budapest was relatively low stress, having pretty much seen everything we set out to see already.

We started at the Szent István Bazilika (St. Stephen's Basilica), which we climbed for the view over the city. We were also going to see the mummified hand of Steven I of Hungary, but there was Easter services in progress so we couldn't get through.

Next we just spent some time wandering around the streets of the town, trying to decide which buildings were damaged by bombs and bullets and which were merely neglected.

Eventually we made our way back to Castle Hill to see it during daylight hours.

We spent a fair bit of time in Mátyás-templom (Matthias Church), which was, of course, covered in scafolding from the outside, but from the inside it was really spectacular.

After this we wandered around the Fisherman's Bastion some more, taking many photos of the view from the hill, and then around the Budai Vár (Buda Castle) itself.

But all this fails to capture one of the key points of our stay in Budapest, which was the coffee shops and the delicious cakes. We had visited a number of the famous coffee shops during our stay, including the famous Gerbeaud, and sampled a number of the different cakes. Our favourite, however, was the Ruszwurm in the Castle district and in fact we went back twice in the space of a couple of hours to try more of their cakes.

We finished off our time in Budapest at some of the markets near our hotel, trying out more local food and spending our local currency, before leaping into a taxi for the Airport, only to be once again delayed by the snow storms in Geneva.