Monday, November 7, 2011

Verbania Part #2

For part one, click here.

After having checked out Pallanza quite thoroughly (which takes.. 20 minutes, max), and making a haul of amazing peaches, yogurt and other snackables from the little supermarket, we were at a loose end. However, there seemed to be a lot of ferry boat activity on the lake, so we cleverly deduced that there might be the chance to get on one, see some sights and shop some shops.

Lago Maggiore is home to The Borromean Islands - Isola Bella, Isola Madre, and Isola dei Pescatori (also known as Isola Superiore), all three are popular tourist spots and contain Palaces and gardens which can be visited for a hefty fee. The town of Stresa is also on the shores of the lake and the BIL had an idea that there might be some great shopping there (music to a woman's ears).

After some confusing negotiation, we settled on a 'there and back' ticket between Pallanza and Stresa, which allowed stops at all islands. The timetable seemed to be written in code, which was mainly a factor of us not having understood that we were staying in Pallanza. I don't know how we made 24 hours without figuring that out, but that's exactly how it rolled - us sitting around, looking at the timetable and realising we had no idea what our little piece of Verbania was called.

Having sorted that out, the process was quite straightforward. We got on at Pallanza and chugged off in the direction of Isola Madre, but we didn't get off there as it looked like a pushchair operators nightmare.

We also stayed on the boat past Baveno,

then got off at Isola Superiore for lunch and shopping.

It was a super hot day and we lingered over lunch, just cooling off a bit.  Miss J had a major fit over getting the wrong dessert. Then when we ordered the 'correct' one, she ate one bite of it and wandered off to play in the kids area.  :-/

Next stop was Stresa. It was getting on in the afternoon and things were winding down for the day. We passed a wine venue. The adults were sorely tempted, almost to breaking point, but the kids were hankering for icecream.  As any traveller knows, when it comes to travel activities, kids > grownups, every time.

Eventually we found our mecca - a Gelateria that did fantastic sorbet.

I also got an espresso. The woman from the Gelateria saw us mingling around the espresso shop directly across the road and ran over to serve us. She was single-handedly running both shops, and doing it while looking relaxed and stylish, I might add. No stress in Stresa.

It was getting a bit boring wandering around closing shops so we headed back to the ferry terminal.

In case you ever go to this terminal in Isola Superiore, the public toilet, which is around the corner to the right, is the mankiest place on earth. It may be a portal to another, smellier, nastier dimension. It has a blue door, don't go through it.

Pics from the trip back:

Isola Bella - we were too pooped to bother getting off the boat.

Once back in Pallanza, we all snoozed for a bit and then, to be culturally sensitive, went out for pizza.

I've still got a bunch of miscellaneous pics from Italy which will probably be a 'random pics' post at some time in the near future.  The next couple of posts will be from around Liechtenstein. Sistasana and I got in the Dacia and endeavoured to 'discover the country' in a day. Of course that coincided with the day that Baby G was nurturing a tummy bug and filled every driving moment with ear-splitting screams. Our mission was shortened appropriately but there are still some good pics from parts of the Furstentum that most people don't see. 

Watch this space.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Vaduz, Part #1

Whoopsies! Life just got a bit busy and I forgot to upload the rest of my pics.. I warn you, there are quite a few... I'll try to organise them into coherent post-sized groups.

Today's bunch are from Vaduz, which is the main town (capital city?) in Liechtenstein. It is overlooked by Schloss Vaduz, the home of the royal family.

There are quite a few sculptural arty pieces around the town. Every time I have been in Vaduz, there are different works of art dotted around the main shopping area.
 Quite often, these works of art are interactive. This one is a water feature; quite nice on a hot day (which it was not. Miss J, however, was undeterred).
 The Landesmuseum, which is basically, the museum of Liechtenstein history.
 The town clock. It's a Rolex, of course.
 One of the many banks. Liechtenstein, being a tax haven, is packed with banks. I have no idea how many, but they are all impressive, with the most bulletproof looking windows I have ever seen. When I told one of the Sana manufacturers that I was off to visit my sister in Liechtenstein, he asked 'does she own a bank?'. Apparently it's not an uncommon occupation or.. hobby? What do you do? I collect banks.
Stamps. One of the quirks of Liechtenstein is that, in spite of being intimately wedged between Switzerland and Austria, they have maintained their own postal system and stamps. They are very proud of this piece of culture: there is even a stamp museum, which I will show you in Vaduz, part 2. In the main shopping area, there are stamp prints at various places on the paving.
 Antonio's Pizza Bar. This is one of the few 'must go' places for food in Liechtenstein. Antonio is from Italy, he wears elevator shoes and his hair is in an amazing quiff that must consume a can of hairspray every day.  But, what is most amazing is the pizza. Thin, crispy, absolutely divine - you will think you are in Rome.
 This is a sign that was in the lift. I think it means 'don't use the lift if there is a fire'. Or it could mean don't get frisky in the lift. It's a catholic country, people.
 The Swarovski shop. Very sparkly.
 The Kunstmuseum. For those of you currently suppressing giggles, kunst means art.  Caz and I paid our fourteen francs and wandered around with wide eyes on my second to last day there. It's a modern art museum, which means that everything I saw there is currently filed in the 'WTF?' section of my mind, along with every Haruki Murakami novel I've ever read. That visit deserves a post of it's own. It was.. something.
Stand by for Vaduz, part #2. I think you are in for a three part blog mini-series.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Verbania, Part 1

I am making some pre-preparations for my trip back to NZ. So far this has consisted of staring at my borrowed suitcase and realising that the available space is oh-so-much smaller than my newly accumulated clothes, shoes and presents… it’s the eternal travel dilemma.

The impending completion of ‘Euro 2011’ in no way signals the end of this years travel blog. It will probably take me another month to finish editing and uploading pics. My just-finished three day excursion to Northern Italy was particularly photo-dense. Verbania was, as expected, absolutely picturesque.

I first visited Northern Italy in 2000 and promised myself that I would return as soon as possible, which turned out to be ten years later. Last year I went to Lake Como with The Programmer and my Grandparents, which was super special. This year I headed back there with my Liechtenstein-based family.

The original idea was to stay in the tourist trap of Locarno, on the shores of Lago Maggiore. However, as it is high season, last-minute accommodation was both hard to find and stupidly expensive. I went Googling and found Verbania, an area also on the shores of the lake, but which is far less touristy and correspondingly less pricey. The drive is an easy 2-3 hours from Liechtenstein (depending on traffic) and gets progressively more Italian. By the time the BIL informed me that we had crossed the border, my head had been in Italy for at least half an hour! The Swiss-Italian part of Switzerland is definitely more Italian than Swiss. 

Although we were looking for a budget hotel, we also needed at least 3 stars in order to cater for the needs of a baby. The spectacularly named Europalace, in Pallanza, fit the bill perfectly; in fact it exceeded our expectations in both service and facilities.

The Europalace is also home to La Cave Restaurant
We were expecting a four bed room, but for €120 a night we got a two bedroom mini-apartment, with balcony. A similar setup in Locarno would have been at least four times the price.
The room I shared with Miss J.She is very tidy for a small person.
Breakfast was included and it wasn’t just a dry bun and box of orange juice.

On day one we explored the town of Pallanza on foot. I quickly realized that, as with many small Italian towns, trying to photograph every beautiful or charming thing would require supergluing my camera to my face. Around every corner there was a ‘wow’ moment (until I got sick of hearing ‘wow’ and instructed everyone in the art of exclaiming ‘bellissimo!’).
I am thinking my next house will look like this. Just can't decide between the house on the left or right...

Pallanza is small, so we stopped for coffee at ‘The American Bar’ (excellent coffee, but as for the name…why?, oh why?) and scoped out our options for the next day. Having decided on a round trip boat ride to the various islands and towns, our next mission was dinner. I was keen on the Ristorante di Cigni but the impossibility of manoevering a push chair up the narrow staircase drove us instead to a nearby pizzeria.

I almost didn't post this pic on account of the top making me look f.a.t.

Not for the first time in Northern Italy, I experienced communication difficulties. After waiting 10 minutes and wondering if the waitress had forgotten about us, she turned up at our table with four beers. Encountering four blank faces, she asked me in Italian and then in English ‘what did you order?. Considering that all I’d done was poke my head in the door and tell her that we wanted a table for three adults and two children, were sitting outside and would like some menu’s, I don’t really know what happened there. I think it was a double-edged ‘funny accent’ problem – hers and mine, combined with the general aloofness of the blonde Northern Italian.

Having sorted out that little mix up, we settled down to dinner. I’m going to say it – I’ve never had a really fantastic dinner experience in Northern Italy. Lunches and coffee are fine, but for awesome food and fantastic, fast, friendly service in the evening you have to head further South. The further South, the better (however, on the flip side, ‘faster in the South’ applies also to the pickpockets and the male flirting!).

The food was pretty average, but with a bottle of vino under our belts, and a view of Lago Maggiore, it didn’t really matter.
After dinner, Miss J made me post in this alley with BabyG so she could take a pic with the lights that had just come on for the evening. She is mastering the art of digital photography, and I guess the importance of focus will come later.. :).
Later that night there was a thunder storm, during which I learned from a sleep-talking Miss J that ‘thunder’ and ‘lightning’ are ‘donner’ and ‘blitz’, like Santa’s reindeers. I fell asleep feeling happy to be alive and woke up ready to tackle breakfast and a day on the lago.

Part 2 coming soon!.

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