A Travellerspoint blog

July 2012

Switzerland (Lausanne)

The land of the efficient and the expensive.

sunny 24 °C

After missing our Milan to Switzerland train by five minutes due to a train derailment, we were quite looking forward to Swiss efficiency. Especially as the delay had us hanging around in the stifling heat of the Milan train station for an additional 5 hours.

The three hour train trip takes you through stunning Italian and Switzerland towns and beautiful lakes including Lake Maggiore. As you reach Lausanne the train travels along Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman as it is correctly known). This lake is sparkling green and surrounded by tall mountains (some of them still snow capped), steep vineyards and pretty little towns. Arriving in Lausanne it was lovely to be picked up in a car by Loli, but we kept our distance and avoided the French embrace as we were rather rank after 14 hours on the hop. A shower and food and we were soon recovered and catching up with our Swiss/Australian friends. The next day we drove down to the Lake and enjoyed lunch at a local lakeside restaurant ... we had to keep remembering to use 'oui' instead of 'si' and 'merci' not 'grazie'. The cooler weather after weeks of 30+ was lovely, and being driven everywhere was a true luxury. Some of the highlights included:

Aussie BBQ Swiss Style


  • A trip to Geneva on the flash, efficient, graffiti free, expensive train ($130 for a family). Geneva is on the same lake as Lausanne and has an amazing water fountain and beautiful old town. We were keen to hire free bikes but unfortunately we didn't have our passports. A walk around the lake and a wander into the old town was a great way to get a feel for the city.

Geneva - Old Town




  • Dan and I enjoyed a bike ride (childfree) from Morges to Ouchy - about 12 kms around the lake. The lake is surrounded by little beaches where families swim and relax, and beautiful houses that have gardens stretching down to the lake - making this a very picturesque part of the world. The bikes are easy to hire and can be left at many of the local depositories in the main parts of the towns.
  • An early departure with kids in tow to walk up to Lac De Taney. This was about an hour and a half walk up rocky paths and through stunning forrested areas. The kids did amazingly well especially given that they didn't have proper walking shoes. Once at the top we swam in the beautiful mountain chilled lake, and had a delicious lunch at a local swiss restaurant. Dan, Loli and Kevin shared a steaming cauldron of fondue (adding back the kilos burnt off in the walk).

The Trek


A Little Break


The Latest in Hiking Gear


What A View


There at Last


The Mountain Lake


Bit Chilly


Bit Cheesy


Next Walk


  • A ferry ride to Montreux where we saw the statue of Freddy Mercury. Loved the ferry, but thought this town was rather overrated with not much to see other than the former front-man for Queen. The famous jazz festival had finished the previous week.
  • A casual run for Dan leading to a search and rescue party (Loli and Kevin) being sent out and his eventual wet and cold return (two hours later) by the kind Serge. (Note to Dan - always take the address or phone with you).

Posted by happellfamily12 13:35 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Lerici - Berlin - Lucca


sunny 32 °C


Whilst it only rates a couple of paragraphs in Lonely Planet Italy, this port town 20 kms south of La Spezia (gateway to the Cinque Terre) is a gem. Dominated by the 12th century castello, Lerici has historic links to Lord Byron and Percy Shelley.

Porto Venere - gateway to the Cinque Terre

Porto Venere - gateway to the Cinque Terre

We were staying in an apartment overlooking the harbour and the Ligurian Sea courtesy of our Australian travelling companions Leonie & Brent (and their 6yo daughter Hazel who became good mates with Gabi & Nat). Leonie & Brent participate in a worldwide home exchange program, so it was that we found ourselves hosted by the ever-genial Gianluca.

Dan, Gianluca, and Brent enjoy a hard earned local red and aperitivi

Dan, Gianluca, and Brent enjoy a hard earned local red and aperitivi

Gianluca was an interesting contradiction for an Italian. Strongly traditional in that he used to share the house with his grandmother, runs a small business with his father, and still lives in the area he was raised in. Atypical in that he is not married to his long-term girlfriend Rafaella, and they are both inveterate travellers, visiting more countries than there are days in July by my estimate! The average Italian seems to venture overseas infrequently, and usually to 'known' destinations like Switzerland and Greece.

Many happy memories will last from this too-short stay : chats with Gianluca; visiting the beautiful Porto Venere by ferry; poolside aperitivi each evening; and for the little 'uns the frequent swims in said pool with the spectacular backdrop. Italy, or The Azzurri, getting flogged in the Euro 2012 final was the only dampener on our visit - amazing how quiet a town can become!

Mr and Mrs H after a beautiful seafood lunch at Porto Venere

Mr and Mrs H after a beautiful seafood lunch at Porto Venere


Our first exposure to Easyjet (predictably re-named Sleazyjet by the good wife) on the Pisa-Berlin route was a happy one. New plane, efficient German staff, and early arrival ticked the boxes. And being two families with kids, we were allowed to board before the masses (an experience not repeated on our return).

Four days in Berlin was enough to whet our appetite for this fantastic city. It helped that we were staying in the hip area of Mitte, which is only one of two boroughs that comprise parts of the old east & west cities. Hip cafes, stylish clothes shops, bohemian crowd, and tiny neighborhood pubs were just the start. The beautiful old buildings are well maintained, and the city's history is readily accessible through existing monuments and well presented exhibits.

Reichstag from the outside

Reichstag from the outside

Reichstag (new) from the inside

Reichstag (new) from the inside

Some especially tasty meals kicked the German gourmet reputation into touch (Reichstag lunch was our best meal to date), and even the slightly intimidating sight of glamorous 6ft 2" tall 'ladies of the night' working the nearby streets of Mitte did not hinder the amiable party atmosphere that pervaded the area. Surprisingly a shopping trip to the famous KaDaWe store was enjoyable for the blokes as well - a beautifully presented retail outlet with a food court that needs to be seen to be believed. Westfield take note ...


Lucca pre-dates the Roman Empire, and is famous for its intact Renaissance city walls. It is a charming, attractive town, and makes for a pleasant stay inside the walls as vehicle traffic is severely restricted. Leonie introduced us to locals Fabrizio and Giovanna, and they said that 10 years ago there were hardly any tourists, which gives an indication how popular this town has become in the past decade.

wild local children run amok on the walls

wild local children run amok on the walls

Our first night was memorable for running into a singing group from St Michaels Grammar in Melbourne (Alma mater of Asher Keddie). They were performing in the vast and attractive Piazza Anfiteatro, and gave away their nationality by handing out mini koala bears! The irony arose because Gabi is on the St Michaels' wait list, so she was very excited to meet some of her potential schoolmates.

view from apartment kitchen into town centre

view from apartment kitchen into town centre

Leonie & Lisa undertook a 5 day Italian language 'immersion' course - that is, no English spoken - which they enjoyed, although not without some teething problems. I made a few day trips with the kids, including to lovely nearby towns Bagni di Lucca and Montecatini Alto, and we all enjoyed a home cooking lesson with the vivacious Francesca. The runners were dusted off to complete a circumference of the Lucca town walls, whilst the kids and the mums chose the more sedate version of walking, along with many of the locals. The walk around the walls is quite beautiful, with stunning views, usually a refreshing breeze, and a strong sense of community.

Posted by happellfamily12 15:13 Archived in Italy Tagged berlin lucca wall fortified lerici Comments (0)

Observations sul turismo di massa


sunny 32 °C

It has become increasingly apparent from our small travel sample (Bellagio, Positano, Capri, Cinque Terre), that a blissful travel experience struggles to co-exist with a mass tourism destination.

Without that crucial blend of local inhabitants (not employed to 'service' the tourists) and alternative industries, these locations tend to take on a surreal atmosphere, where stampeding crowds of tourists slowly chip away at any remaining goodwill that the townsfolk may possess. Those small exchanges that can add so much to a traveller's day - your broken Italian understood and encouraged by the barista, a potted history from the local fruit vendor - disappear into the maelstrom of rising tempers and ever increasing queues.

blue grotto traffic jam

blue grotto traffic jam

The obvious target for finger pointing are the Americans, but they by no means have a monopoly on poor manners, ignorance of local customs, and a mystifying inability to learn even a few words of the local lingo. On the flipside of this coin, the Italian tourism infrastructure cannot avoid censure. The heavily patronised Rome and Florence train stations have long struggled to cope with the tourist flow, yet despite the enormous revenue they directly (and indirectly) generate, do not appear to have been significantly improved for many a long year.

capri beached out

capri beached out

On a smaller scale, it is virtually impossible to locate the Tourist Information Bureau at Positano or Capri - a ludicrous situation that automatically sets you on the wrong foot as you wrestle suitcases and coax tired children through packed alleyways.

Needless to say one is left with a slightly deflated feeling when these much lauded, and usually spectacular destinations, fail to ignite the excitement and sense of wonder that you anticipated. The solution? Well, aside from realising that there are probably many other travellers thinking the same thing (and cursing under their breath at the feral Australian family seated next to them), it is to get off the beaten path, and find the quintessential travel experiences that have not yet appeared in Fodor's or Lonely Planet.

Sounds like a worthwhile challenge ...

Posted by happellfamily12 14:30 Archived in Italy Tagged tourism Comments (0)

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