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Old 07-16-2012, 12:22 PM   #1
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Alpine Magic photo/trip report

As sayhello puts it, this is image intensive!! RSM and another blogger have their excellent trip reports in the link above. They have made a few changes to the itinerary so I'll mention that as well.

Okay, so right after our Greek Odyssey ABD, we were off to Milan to start our Alpine Magic trip. It was an event-free flight from Heraklion to Milan. The airline also has a 3D view of the plane in flight, which I think was cool. Their flight attendants are also attractive, I swear one of them is a dead ringer for Anne Hathaway.

When we arrived in Milan, we were informed that we had to wait for another family to arrive before they drive us up to our hotel in Stresa. It was an hour wait so we grabbed a quick lunch. The drive to Stresa is about an hour. Once we reached our hotel, we knew this would be a totally different experience from the one in Greece. I think it's a great trip to do back-to-back with. It's generally slow-paced and a lot of sightseeing.

The Regina Palace Hotel




The hotel was nicely located near the square where shopping abounds. We also had a view of Lake Maggiore and we could see Isola Bella from our window. The rooms are typical of Italian hotel rooms, small but adequate. My only gripe is the size of the room safe. It's tiny!! It's probably the tiniest we have ever had. It did the job but it was a tight squeeze. The room ceiling is probably 20 feet high and the design was ornate.

The grand staircase which leads to the lobby


The indoor pool which was quite steamy and hot.


This is the view from our window. That is Lake Maggiore, the second largest lake in Italy. 45 km north of the lake is on Swiss territory. The mountains in the background are called the pre-Alps.


Since we had a few hours before the welcome dinner, we took a walk on the waterfront. It's a nice place to relax, hike or jog. We saw a few people swimming in the lake. Boats were limited but there are tours that will take you to the islands on the lake for a fee. We looked for the place where we can take the cable car to see the whole of Lake Maggiore. It was quite a distance from the hotel and it was quite cloudy, so we weren't sure if we can get it done the next day.


Hydrangeas are plenty in different colors


A train trolley tour


There is a nearby shopping area with plenty of restaurants and gelato stops to choose from. We loaded ourselves with gelato and Italian treats!!


They had a few of these wooden boats filled with flowers.


Closer view of Isola Bella from our window
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Old 07-16-2012, 01:10 PM   #2
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Isola Bella

This was our first stop the next morning. It was cloudy and drizzling on and off so my photos are not great. We took a boat to take us to the island.



The island is owned by the Borromeos and completely occupied by the palazzo and ornate garden.


The resident white peacock which is seen in most of the island's photos




The views from the balcony are simply amazing!




This is the family's motto. I guess with all these ostentations, they need to be reminded constantly. It's Latin for humility. They have it engraved discreetly in certain places in the palace as well.


Like I said, hydrangeas everywhere.


Leaving the island


Next stop was wine tasting at La Cambusa. The hostess was Rosaria, whom I found out has been doing this with Disney for at least 3 years. She's a very chatty woman and quite entertaining.

Dinner was in a family-owned farm called Il Monterosso. It takes about an hour to get there only because it involved a lot of switch backs on a mountain. It could be a challenge for someone with motion sickness. It was well worth the drive though. The view was great and the food delicious!

Here's a photo of the appetizer


Isola Bella at night
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Old 07-16-2012, 03:02 PM   #3
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I forgot to mention earlier, Lake Maggiore was mentioned in Ernest Hemingway's Farewell to Arms, for the literary enthusiasts out there.

Also, I forgot to explain that Isola Bella was built by Carlo Borromeo for his wife Isabella in 1632. The garden was completed in 1671. Napoleon was a guest of the Borromeos and they showed us the room where he stayed. It is now a tourist attraction but the Borromeos are still around, but very low-keyed people. Photos were not allowed inside the palace so I have nothing to share in that regard.

Now on to Lake Como. So it was another hour coach drive to Lake Como where another private boat awaits for our tour. Lake Como is one of the deepest lakes (at 1300+ ft!) in Europe. It is also the third largest lake in Italy. The lake is known as Lario to Italians and is surrounded by several villas and palaces owned by the ultra wealthy and celebrities like George Clooney, Versace and Richard Branson. The area has been a popular retreat for the wealthy since Roman times.

This was our boat. The tour guide, Gabriella used a microphone as she described the villas and the geography. Since we wanted to sit outside at the back for better photo ops and view, we could hardly hear what she was saying. I had to listen intently to at least make sure I see George's Italian abode!



Boats for rent near the place where we embarked our tour.


This building was used in the movie Ocean's 11. Of course, George Clooney was in the movie.



A luxury hotel


Fantastic views from the boat







This is George Clooney's house, Villa Oleandra


His guest house, Villa Margarita which is separated from his main home by a small park where he reportedly jogs. Behind the main house is a studio, so all in all, he owns 3 properties!


Next, we got off at Como and had about an hour free time to roam around. More gelato!!

They have a huge cathedral in the city


If you are shopping for clothes or shoes, this is the place to go. Silk is also wildly used and sold as scarves and other garments.

Here are some shots of the area






We then drove a short ways to our next activity of the day - pasta-making. The venue is different this year. It is held at the Villa Parravicini Revel which is a great location for weddings and other special occasions. The pasta-making class, lead by Stefano who spoke entirely in Italian (with Marc translating) was held outdoors. Lunch followed, which was again delicious - gnocchi with pesto sauce and spaghetti with tomato sauce. The tiramisu was fantastic as well. The servings were small which was perfect!



We had a free afternoon the rest of the day. We did not have time to do the cable car ride and spent the rest of the day buying last minute Italian souvenirs and treats. We had to pack and great ready to leave for Zermatt, Switzerland the next day.
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Old 07-16-2012, 04:36 PM   #4
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On our third day, we were off to Switzerland!! It was a long scenic drive to the city of Zermatt. Zermatt is a combustion engine-free zone which was determined by the town folks back in 1966 to help prevent air pollution clouding the impressive views of the Alps, particularly the Matterhorn. So to get there, we had to get off our Italian coach in Tasch to take the electric train to Zermatt. It was a short train ride to Zermatt since it's the first stop. Just a note, if you happen to purchase items from Italy or any eurozone country before that, and you can avail of the tax refund, you would have to have the form stamped at the border. I mentioned that to Marc before leaving for Switzerland since I had a couple of forms and he said that I can do it when I leave Switzerland in Zurich. Anyway, you can't. It still needs to be stamped when you leave Italy. It was quick leaving the Italian border, just a drive through but we had to stop and our driver, Guiseppe had to get off for paperwork at the Swiss border.

This is the Swiss border


We stopped at the Simplon Pass, which is high mountain pass (over 6000 ft) between the Pennine (Marc calls it Panini) Alps and the Lepontine Alps in Switzerland. This has historic significance during Napoleon's time when the road was constructed between 1801-05 to transport artillery pieces from the Rhone Valley to Italy. Switzerland has 26 cantons (like states in the US or provinces in Canada) and the pass is located at the canton of Valais.

There is a little fountain which pours out fresh alpine water. We helped fill our water bottles with it and it's naturally refrigerated!


Our guides Marc and Maura monkeying around at the Simplon Pass.


We arrive at the train station in Tasch. I'm a big Roger Federer fan so I had to take this photo.




The electric train which will take us to Zermatt.


Zermatt is a small town of 5500 people. Most are wealthy. I have seen photos of the area and I was simply blown away by the beauty! This is my favorite stop of the trip. The hotel we stayed at, the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof was nicely located central to town. The place was teeming with tourists but I loved the feel, the ambience, the Alps surrounding the town and the fresh clean air. Finally, my DD who was suffering from the extreme heat in Greece, is happy to be in a cool place.

Why do I love Switzerland? It has two things I love - cheese and chocolate!! Our first stop was a cheese and chocolate fondue lunch. Uhm-uhm!!! Sumptuous, makes my mouth water just thinking about it.


Our first glimpse of the Matterhorn


And here are shots of Zermatt, along main street (as Marc called it)






Yup, they were sold in this little town


Every 5 pm, these kids parade back with their mountain goats. All the goats have bells which make a very pleasant ringing sound. They go back to the mountains at 9 am the next morning.




The church next to the hotel. The bells ring every half hour until 10:30 pm and again at 7 am. We swear they ring it to the tune of "Three Blind Mice".


Electric taxi cabs line the street.


This was the afternoon we were supposed to go paragliding. Unfortunately, the weather did not permit it and the company canceled all paragliding activities that day. That gave us a reason to go back, which DH and I wanted to do. DD does not want to do the trip again because, she said, she wanted new pins.
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Old 07-16-2012, 06:43 PM   #5
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Wow! Beautiful! This always did look like a fabulous trip. One of these days, I may give it a try!

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Old 07-16-2012, 09:30 PM   #6
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Hi Tufbu-Your TR brings back alot of fond memories. We loved this trip. It had the right mix of activities and "on your own time". We had Marc as our guide (he must have been happy Spain won the Euro Cup, they won the world cup when we were there). He was great with the kids. I also recognized Stefano. He did the pasta making lesson when we went also, in addition to Maria doing the wine tasting. So sorry you didn't get to do the paragliding in Zermatt. My sense is that the weather is pretty tempermental there. Although, like you, we would love to go back to Zermatt. Looking forward to the rest of your report.
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Old 07-16-2012, 09:36 PM   #7
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Hi Tufbu-Your TR brings back alot of fond memories. We loved this trip. It had the right mix of activities and "on your own time". We had Marc as our guide (he must have been happy Spain won the Euro Cup, they won the world cup when we were there). He was great with the kids. I also recognized Stefano. He did the pasta making lesson when we went also, in addition to Maria doing the wine tasting. So sorry you didn't get to do the paragliding in Zermatt. My sense is that the weather is pretty tempermental there. Although, like you, we would love to go back to Zermatt. Looking forward to the rest of your report.
I looked back at your photos and I feel bad we weren't able to do the paragliding. Your photos are amazing and you had a clear view of the Matterhorn's peak!! Yeah, Marc is a funny guy and he and Maura complement each other, same level of energy. Everyone got a kick out of Marc saying "Adventurers!" in his sing-song manner. And yes, he was happy Spain won. BTW, he is working on his Swiss citizenship and his ID now says Luzern, Switzerland. His girlfriend is Swiss and he now resides not far from the Hotel Schweizerhof where we stayed.
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Old 07-16-2012, 10:10 PM   #8
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Okay, more about Zermatt, which I forgot to mention earlier. The shops are a walk away from the hotel and makes window shopping interesting. It is very expensive there and we spent 3 times more for our dinner there than we did in Stresa. The shops also close at 5 PM.

The Grand Hotel Zermaterhoff. This is our favorite hotel among the three we stayed in during this trip. They gave us a modern suite with a huge balcony and a great view of the Matterhorn.


The hotel's horse carriage, this is how our luggage were transported from the train station to the hotel.


The hotel's restaurant where we had our breakfast

On our last day in Zermatt, we went ziplining at Forest Fun Park, not far from the hotel. You can walk it but we took cabs going there. I don't have a whole lot of photos while ziplining since the guides discouraged us from bringing anything while going through the course. Well, looking back at RSM's trip report last year as well as the one the year before his, I realized they had their cameras with them. Oh well. The guides said they will take care of the photos so I'll check theem out once we get our DVDs.

That morning, we checked the Matterhorn and still no clear peak. It turned out, we missed it by half an hour. One person in the group was able to take a photo of the Matterhorn without clouds and I'm waiting for him to email the photo.


This part of the trip was ABSOLUTE FUN!!!! This is our favorite part of the trip. We were divided into two groups and we had 2 hours. We were able to do 3 out of 4 courses since we didn't have enough time to do the black run. You can only go as fast as the person in front of you. Only 3 people can stay on the platform at one time and there are difficult courses so you have to wait.

This is the tutorial area


Not a great shot but this part of the course from the entrance


The green run is the first level and everyone has to go through that first. It's supposed to be the easiest but it's not. I find the blue run, which is the next level easier than the green. The blue run has the most and longest zip lines. The red run is next and the last, black which is all obstacle courses.

This is near the end of the blue run. The tightrope (actually it's a metal cable) is probably 50 feet high. Watching across, it was difficult for me to picture crossing it! The zipline that follows it is the longest in the course.


We had a quick lunch afterwards. The afternoon is a new addition to the itinerary. They now take the group up to Gornegrat for a fantastic view of the Alps. We again went to the train station and went up the mountain for a 40 minute ride.


There was a little surprise when we reached our destination so I will leave that. It's not a big thing but I love it anyways. So once on top, this is what we saw....




You can see how much cloud cover developed through the day. The view was awe-inspiring!! It's just a magnificent site, nature in its grandeur. The mountains look very peaceful and inert but they quietly shape the alps with its glaciers. It made me feel so small. It kinda looked ominous with the dark clouds and all and I would love to go back and see all the peaks clearly!



This is a hotel, at 10000 feet. The ski runs look very challenging as well.



DH and DD on top


It poured when we were up there and waited for the rain to abate in the gift shop. This is how it looked once we were back on the train.
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Old 07-17-2012, 06:51 AM   #9
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This is a fantastic trip report. Everything looks so beautiful, it makes me long to go on this trip! DD has her mind set on China next, but I may just need to share these photos and apply some pressure...
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Old 07-17-2012, 11:15 AM   #10
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Quote:
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Wow! Beautiful! This always did look like a fabulous trip. One of these days, I may give it a try!
Yes it is and yes you should give it a try!

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Originally Posted by tracyz View Post
This is a fantastic trip report. Everything looks so beautiful, it makes me long to go on this trip! DD has her mind set on China next, but I may just need to share these photos and apply some pressure...
Thank you so much. Everything is beautiful and Switzerland is incredibly clean. The mountains look like they have this all powerful lawn mower that keeps the grass look like carpet. This is not a very hectic trip so if that is what you are looking for, it would be nice to spend a week long scenic trip. I think China is busier, haven't done it yet but from the sound of it, it seems like so.
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Old 07-17-2012, 12:14 PM   #11
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So we leave magnificent Zermatt for Luzern. Another note on the Grand Hotel Zermatterhoff, Walt Disney stayed there during his visit. And of course the Matterhorn inspired him to create the bobsled coaster in Disneyland today.

We took the 8:40 am train back to Tasch to take the coach ride which will take us to Luzern. This is a long drive and took nearly the whole day. The drive, like I mentioned earlier is very scenic. We can't help but think about the homes which dot the mountains. Some are right on the cliffs and we wonder how people get to and out of these homes since we don't see any visible roads. And no commercial buildings for miles!

We went through the Furka Pass which bypassed the zigzag mountain road above it. It was quite an experience and the guides did a good job in keeping us busy as we wait.


Our bus waiting at the Furka Pass




We stopped in a town called Andermatt where we had lunch at the Kronen Hotel's restaurant. The food was okay. Here are some sights from the area. It started raining when we were having lunch and we were not sure if we will be able to push through with the biking.


You can see the heavy clouds in this photo.


As I mentioned earlier, Switzerland is divided into different cantons. Each have a different flag as well, and here are some of them.


Beautiful scenery everywhere...


Our Swiss coach to Luzern, a Swiss visit is not complete without knowing the tale of William Tell!


Next, we biked in Fluelen along Lake Luzern. It was a pleasant bike ride mainly on dirt road but it's flat. It ended on the lake and some of the boys got in the cold water. Marc said that was the first time anyone in the group got in!

This is Fluelen and not far from this sight was where we got our bikes.


We finally arrived in Luzern in mid-afternoon. It's a beautiful city, cosmopolitan and modern. It's quite crowded too with lots of tourists. The main attraction is Chapel Bridge which spans across the River Reuss and is the oldest surviving wooden covered bridge in Europe. Several paintings underneath the roof makes it unique, unfortunately most were destroyed during the fire in 1993. 147 paintings existed before the fire and only 30 were restored. The bridge was reconstructed and reopened in 1994.







There are several swans wading on the river near the bridge.


Buildings, shops and restaurants along the river. A Starbucks cup of coffee cost as much as 11 bucks there!


A Luzern train trolley near the hotel


View of Lake Luzern and the Chapel Bridge from our room window. Mt. Pilatus overlooks the city in the background.


Most of the shops close at 5 pm as well. The hotel is centrally located and the shopping areas are nearby. Most families went to Bachmann's which is a chocolate shop. The smell inside is heavenly! There are two shops, go to the one behind the hotel. It is not as crowded.
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Old 07-17-2012, 04:32 PM   #12
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I literally said "Wow!" out loud 3 xs reading your report and looking at your pictures. Thx so much for sharing. I can't wait to read the next installment.
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Old 07-17-2012, 05:02 PM   #13
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Before I post the last installment of the trip report, let me just share this photo. One of the obvious souvenirs you can get from Switzerland is, of course, the Swiss knife. This one is quite impressive! This is from one of the stores in Zermatt. So much for having a pocket knife, I just don't know how this can be handy, unless you can take it apart in sections. Any takers?

Just a tip, every store have different prices on their commodities so it's good to shop and compare before buying.



On our last day, we headed to the Husky Lodge in Muotathal in the canton of Schwyz. It's about an hour drive from our hotel in Luzern. I am not sure if ABD is keeping this activity since the website now says on Day 7 of the trip, that it's pretty much a free day in Luzern. They have the photo of the husky licking a man but it does not mention about the visit, so we'll see.



The huskies are given their meal - meat mixed with water. They say, the dogs don't drink water so they have to mix it with their food to encourage them to drink.



It's a handsome animal...


We had to walk in pairs and each one has a waist band where the leash is attached. Since the dogs were bred to pull, pull they did! So we didn't walk the dog, we ran with the dog! That gave us our morning work out indeed! It was also nice and warm that day.



On the walk back, the dogs were a bit tired so they weren't avidly running.


More sites from Luzern, here is a Jesuit church


Chocolates from Bachmann




The venue for our farewell dinner


The dying lion of Luzern sculpted in 1820 to commemorate the Swiss Guards massacred during the French Revolution. The inscription on top says "To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss" and the inscriptions below lists the names of the officers and the numbers of the soldiers who died and survived. It's a huge sculpture! The length is about 30 ft and the height 20 ft. It is a very moving work of art.





I'm glad Marc took us to the lion site since I completely forgot about it since I was distracted with other things. It was in my list of things to see.

So that sums up our Alpine Magic trip 2011. Here is a shot of Lake Luzern from our window the day we left for Zurich. It's an hour long drive from the hotel. We took a long time to check in and got to our gate in time to board, so again, I wasn't able to claim the tax refund. Oh well. Auf wiedersehen!
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Old 07-17-2012, 05:45 PM   #14
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Just amazing! I *love* that dying lion sculpture. And the picture of Mt. Pilatus overlooking the city of Luzern is fabulous! Thanks so much for the report!

Please be sure & put a link to your Trip Report in the Sticky!

Sayhello
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Old 07-17-2012, 06:39 PM   #15
tufbuf
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sayhello View Post
Just amazing! I *love* that dying lion sculpture. And the picture of Mt. Pilatus overlooking the city of Luzern is fabulous! Thanks so much for the report!

Please be sure & put a link to your Trip Report in the Sticky!

Sayhello
Done! Thanks, sayhello!
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