Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Walking on Lac de Joux

On Saturday we decided to head off into the Jura to check out Lac de Joux, which freezes over in Winter. It took longer than expected to get there, after my GPS decided it the most direct route was the most appropriate, even though it was under deep snow and impassable (although I did give it a good shot before deciding the better of it).

I didn't have all that high expectations, as I'd seen pictures of frozen lakes before that just looked like a flat area with snow on it, but we were pleasantly surprised that, while there was patches of snow, the lake was largely bare ice.

Originally the plan was to hire some ice skates and go skating, but we weren't quite organised enough to locate the rental place and settled for a walk along the surface of the lake.

This was impressive enough though, since it is a big lake and was obviously frozen to quite a significant depth; we saw lots of fracture points where the ice had buckled or subsided and you could really see just how deep the ice was.

We walked a fair way along the lake, checking out what other people were doing, such as ice skating, riding on recumbent bikes (three wheels perfect for ice), dragging along a toboggan, walking their dog, or having a small party. There was even a group of Swans swimming around in a small hole of unfrozen lake, looking very cold and bored.

We really enjoyed our time on Lac de Joux and no doubt we'll return, next time a little more organised, to spend a bit more time on the Lake before spring comes and turns it back to water.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Bassano del Grappa

Our last stop-over on our trip across Italy (actually on the way back towards Switzerland now) was Bassano del Grappa where, unsurprisingly, you'll find Grappa, although we were going just because it was meant to be a nice town to visit.

We were lucky enough to be there on Market day, so the squares were filled with stalls, although it was also the first day of the January sales in Italy, so we spent more time in the shops than the markets.

Getting away from the shopping for a while, we wandered out of the town to check out the bridge over the river which had been destroyed a few times over the years, last time by the retreating Nazis, but had been rebuilt in the original style.

During our walks we stumbled across one of the Grappa distilleries and, even though we wouldn't count ourselves amongst the fans of Grappa, we did stop in for a look.

We also made a quick trip to Asolo, a nearby hill town, but by this stage we were focused on the upcoming drive home and only stopped for a last plate of pasta before heading off. The only eventful thing to happen on the way home was the window washer freezing in the cold while going over the Grand-Saint-Bernard pass back into Switzerland: it's cold up there!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009


We had decided we wanted to be somewhere exciting for NYE. Last year we were in Paris, and while Paris is always an amazing city to visit, we still felt like the NYE celebrations weren't that exciting (it's difficult to top Sydney fireworks). We thought Venice would be a better choice for this year, and although it proved to be a complex and expensive affair, I think we were ultimately justified. Plus Venice is the home of Tiramisu, and we love Tiramisu!

Venice is not the simplest city to enter. You can't drive in, of course, so we parked in Mestre and planned to catch the train in. While this may sound straightforward, we had been lulled into a false sense of security about trains after living in Switzerland for too long, and assumed the train at our platform was the right one, subsequently ended up in Padua. After some frantic ticket buying and tense moments around ensuring we were now on the correct train, we did eventually arrive in Venice.

Then you have to catch a ferry if you are going any significant distance from the station (okay you can walk, but where's the fun in that?). We waited a huge amount of time at the ferry ticket office, which seems to be set up as some sort of a natural impediment to overcrowding on the ferries by limiting the number of people who can buy a ticket within a sensible timeframe (ie: it was very slow).

Anyway we eventually caught our ferry and began the walk to our Hotel and of course, being in Venice, we got lost. While lost, our hotel called us and told us our booking had also been lost and they'd booked us instead into a different hotel, on the other side of the island (at least it was an upgrade at no cost).

After managing to find both our old and new hotels in the maze of Venice's alleys, and the delays in getting to Venice in the first place, we were tired and annoyed and stressed by the fact that our time in Venice had already had a big chunk taken out of it, so we made the decision to stay for an extra night.

We made the most of the remaining daylight that first day to 'climb' (there is a convenient lift) the Campanile in San Marco to catch the sun setting over the city, and then had a quick run through the Basilica di San Marco before it shut.

We'd also found what we believed to be a modest Osteria for NYE dinner. We'd booked an early sitting to avoid the very expensive set menu and thought we were quite safe since it was a fair distance from the main tourist strip, however one look at the menu prices set us straight.

We decided that we might as well just forget about money and have our nice meal, which was indeed very nice, even if the service was a bit pretentious. The main event, of course, was desert of Tiramisu (practically our main justification for coming to Venice) and this Osteria was meant to have some of the best in town. In fact it was very good Tiramisu, but possibly not making up for the bill at the end of the meal.

We then headed on to Piazza-San-Marco for the NYE celebrations. There was entertainment organised, and the square was full of people and, to top it all off, it started to snow and kept snowing all the way through to midnight.

After the stroke of midnight, everyone rushed around to the lagoon side where there was a fireworks display - so there we were, in Venice, at Piazza-San-Marco, on NYE, watching fireworks in the snow!

The next day (after a bit of a sleep in) our options were a bit limited as most of the major sites were closed for public holiday. We did manage to get back to Basilica di San Marco for a more dedicated tour of the cathedral, but anyway Venice is just one of those places you can spend days wandering around the alleys, taking photos of Gondolas on the canals, window shopping for glass beads (that was Linda) and eating Pizza by the slice.

We stayed another night, enjoying a tasty meal at a Trattoria near our hotel, where Linda overdosed on dishes involving black squid ink, and some more (but sub-optimal) Tiramisu, and the next day we did a tour of the Palazzo Ducale, dutifully walking over the Ponte dei Sospiri (bridge of sighs) and generally freezing to death in the old palace.

We did one last grand tour of the town for more last minute purchases, photos of Gondolas and slices of pizza, before deciding we should find out whether our car had been stolen and burned in Mestre in our absence. We took the ferry out of town again, along the grand canal to the train station.

Venice is the most expensive city in Italy, and we visited it at NYE which is peak season even in the depths of winter, so we left a lot poorer than we arrived, but it was definitely the highlight of our trip and well worth the stay. Also it turned out, much to our relief, that our car had not been stolen and/or burned.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009


The next day we travelled out of Lombardia and into the Veneto, arriving at our next destination: Treviso. We immediately decided to boycott our hotel restaurant, even though it had good reviews, because we weren't happy with our room (on the ground floor just off reception).

Treviso talks itself up as a 'little Venice', but although there are a number of canals running through the town it is difficult to compare the two. Not that Treviso isn't a very nice town, but comparing yourself to Venice is inevitably a mistake.

After the eating excesses of the previous days we opted for a simple pizza for lunch - though even a pizza in Italy is generally a positive experience.

We then spent a large amount of time walking around the town, wandering through churches, examining frescos, taking photos of the canals and window shopping for exotic foods.

Treviso is also the home of Benetton and we took advantage of this fact by visiting the giant Benatton store which happened to be holding a 50% off sale due to pending renovations. I managed to finally pick up a warm overcoat for work (I had been surviving on my flimsy overcoat from Sydney) and Linda picked up a couple of jumpers.

We finished up with dinner at an Osteria that got good reviews, and certainly attracted a local crowd, sampling some more local dishes (incorporating the famous radicchio rosso) and walking out well fed and happy (if a little poorer for the experience).


Next stop on our trip was in Mantova, a small lake town in keeping with our goal to visit smaller, less touristed towns in Italy.

I think we were a little underwhelmed when we arrived - we couldn't find a hotel in the old town so we were near the station, then we managed to get ourselves lost navigating our way into the town, and it was cold and dreary when we did find one of the main squares.

However after a quick lunch of some of the local specialities (especially the delicious pumpkin ravioli), and finding some of the more attractive and lively squares, we felt a lot happier with our decision.

As you've probably come to expect, we spent our time wandering around the town, checking out the enormous Duomo, shopping and eating.

We finished up with another delicious meal for dinner before heading back to our hotel for the night.


This Christmas we decided that, since we have a car, we might as well go for a drive across the North of Italy.

We started our trip driving through the Grand St. Bernard pass into Italy, stopping briefly at Aosta for an Italian coffee, before moving on to Bergamo, a hill town just past Milan.

We stayed in a very nice hotel in the old town (la citta alta), and spent our time wandering around the medieval streets and re-acquainting ourselves with Italian food and wine.

While we were there, we experienced a first for us: snow in Italy! Apparently we were in the middle of a cold snap in Italy so while we were expecting marginally warmer weather south of the Alps, it certainly didn't feel that way.

Anyway we had a very nice time in Bergamo, trying out the local cuisine (polenta, cheeses and salami), taking photos in the snow, and generally taking it easy.