Archive for the ‘Switzerland’ Category


November 11, 2017

The sun was shining across the Lake as we arrived in Lucerne, we were met at the station by Billy, our Airbnb host, who then led us the 150 metres to our accomodation. Not only was it close to the rail station, it was also close to the famous Chapel Bridge, in fact as we stood on the street corner by our accommodation we could see the bridge through the street opposite, again only 200 metres away.

Chapel bridge.

Once we had settled into our room and sorted ourselves out we went for a walk to see the bridge, walking across a parallel bridge to get a good view of the historic bridge.

just to prove that we were there!!

From here we went for a wander around the old town, which is on the other side of the Bridge. Lucerne is not a large city, in fact it has a population of just 80,000 and as an interesting aside it has over 500 firemen to serve the city!!! Back to wandering the old town, which is located on the north side of the Reuss River, the river that feeds Lake Lucerne. We found a number of interesting buildings painted decoratively.

as you can see by the picture, it was dark by now, and time to find somewhere to eat. Although there were plenty of choices around, the cost of everything in Switzerland is very high. I was hoping to find somewhere selling fondue as when in Switzerland one should at least try the local. famous local dish. We did indeed find them, however the prices started at CH36 and went up to CH55 (that is about NZD52-80, or £27~42) and that is per person! Guess what? No I didn’t try fondue that night!

We wandered around the old town before heading back across the Chapel Bridge, or Kapellbrücke. This bridge was built in 1333 and spans 204m (669ft). And is the oldest covered bridge in Europe, although a lot of it has been replaced after. Afire in 1993 destroyed a large part of it as well as many of the 17th century painted panels depicting scenes from Lucerne’s history.

Roy admiring the panels

Time to retire for the evening and see what’s the new day brings. The new day brought rain, low cloud and mist so that didn’t bode well for the days planned activities. Never mind, we donned our newly purchased ponchos and set off to see the Lion Monument, a dying Lion carved into a rock face to commemorate the hundreds of Swiss guards killed during the French Revolution.

the Lion in its surroundings with lovely autumnal colours.

Roy in his becoming but effective poncho.

Close up of the Lion

After the wander around in the rain we decided we deserved a bit of morning tea

morning tea

It was also time to regroup and replan our activities as this rain was due to last another 4 or 5 days, not the best weather for sightseeing. The planned Lake trip was put off as we had earlier seen the boat disappear off into the mist, hmm, not ideal to see anything. The other options that were also postponed was a trip up Mt Pilatus, mind you the thought of going on that trip was heartstopping! It comprises of a gondola ride which is a rotating gondola, a cable car then a train down.

the route

and the thought of the train hanging over the cliff edge and the height of the cable car ride was enough to say thank goodness it’s raining and covered in cloud!!!!

Therefore that put off a similar trip to Mt Titlus which is renowned for the “highest and scariest suspension bridge in the world.

as regular readers will know, neither of us are into heights and certainly do not need to scare ourselves. We are happy to admire the pictures that others take and secretly thank goodness that the weather played into our hands.

Instead we headed to the Rosengart Art Gallery to view the works on display which included and extensive collection of works by Picasso, Klee, Chagall, Joan Miro, Renoir, Cézanne and Monet to name but a few. I have to admit that I prefer the early Picasso works rather than his later works but my all time favourites are the French Impressionists. It was a lovely way to spend an hour or two out of the rain.

There is also another bridge just downstream from the famous Chapel Bridge, the Spreuer Bridge, which was built in 1408 but had to be rebuilt in 1566 after the original was destroyed by flooding. The picture panels in the Spreuer Bridge are much clearer than those in the Chapel Bridge.

Time for us to leave Lucerne and the weather behind us, tomorrow we are off again.

Train to Lucerne

November 10, 2017

Have we mentioned before how much we enjoy travelling by train? We were on yet another train journey, we had already travelled 1 hour via train from Mendrisio to Bellinzona and this 2 hour train trip was heading though the Gotthard Pass and tunnels to Lucerne. We are moving from the Italian speaking part of Switzerland to the predominantly German speaking region of Switzerland.

The scenery started off Alpine-like, with great views of snow capped mountains. It was quite an overcast and cool start to the day as we climbed higher into the Alps.

The Swiss really know how to build things, a valley? build a bridge or viaduct, mountain? tunnel through it, not enough room for a two way highway? Build another one above the original road!

viaduct leading into tunnels

one road on top of another

mountains pepping through

map of where we are travelling

past lakes

Swiss chalets

more mountains

And finally arriving in Lucerne

Mendrisio and about

November 8, 2017

High on a hill was a lonely goatherd

Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo .….

echoes round and round in our heads as you really do need to have mountain goat genes to live in this neck of the woods. I had to laugh when I saw this ad, it seemed very appropriateil caprone = goat, and io = me.

The following picture is taken looking through a window from our hotel in Mendrisio, if you look very closely toward the top middle of the cliff in the tree line break, there is a house! How on earth they get to it is anyone’s guess.

Just in case you cannot see it, I have circled it for you!

There are homes like this all throughout the area and it seems as though the only access to many of them is on foot only.

Around and about in Mendrisio. The following three pictures are the outside of the Church and a couple of different internal shots. Inside the church are elements from previous churches that were on the site i.e. paintings, alters, sculpture and stained glass, some of which dates back to the 13th Century with some of the alter pieces from the 15 & 16th Centuries.

Outside the church on an old bell tower wall is the following remains believed to have been remains from early Romanesque times.

Have fun translating that!

A picturesque street view

And an optical illusion, yes this is a painting on the end wall.

When we were at the top of Monte Generoso, in the shop there were some preserves made by a Vanini, wonder if they are related?

We returned to Bellinzona the following morning via the free train, before transferring to the train to take us to Lucerne via the Gotthard tunnels. But before we left Bellinzona, we had time to return to the friendly bistro we found the previous day for breakfast, and we looked forward to a change from pastry, cold meats and cheese.

a couple of eggs to set us up for the day, served in the pans they were cooked in.

Monte Generoso and Bellinzona

November 6, 2017

Monte Generoso was to be our first call today and with the skies blue it was the perfect day to do some sightseeing. We caught the train from Mendrisio to Capolago where we were to change to the rack system train to take us up the mountain. As part of our free train pass for Ticino, it also gave us a 30% discount on the scenic train to the top of Monte Generoso.

we caught the train at Capolago FFS which is where the other rail lines run, and as per the picture above it wend sits way up the western side of the mountain stopping at two points, San Nicolao (707m or 2320ft) and Bellavista (1222m or 4009ft) where some keen passengers (and dogs) disembarked to walk one of the many trails. These two stops also have passing loops for descending trains to pass.

the passing track showing the rack system down the centre between the two rail tracks. The line is 9km or 5.6miles long and is 800mm or 2ft7in gauge. It is a rack railway with a maximum gradient of 22%.

Once leaving Bellavista, the landscape changes from heavily forested lower slopes to more open meadow before reaching the summit. There was some spectacular views down towards the lakes to be seen on the way as well, however with just one of us admiring the views. This is Capolago looking straight down with the outskirts of Lugano on the far side of the Lake.

Now regular readers will know that one of us is particularly nervous with regards to heights, especially in forms of transport other than flying or walking! So by the time we arrived at the top of the mountain (1704m or 5600ft) let’s say one of us was content to keep away from the edge of the viewing platform!!! The same someone was pleased to see this sign, especially the second item from the top!!!

The terminus building was only opened in April of this year with the rail line closed to the public for four years whilst the new building was completed, so we were very fortunate to have been able to arrive once it was all completed.

the building is called Fiore di pietra, stone flower.

The views are over Lakes Lugano and Como (as seen in the following picture), with Lakes Maggiore and Varese also in view. To the north are the Alps, stretching from the Matterhorn via the Jungfrau to the Bernina Range. To the south are the Italian Lombardy Plains and the Po Valley with Milan visible on a very clear day.

If you look very carefully in the next picture you will see what looks like a causeway between the two lakes, we will be heading over this later in the day to Bellinzona.

And to prove that we were both there, my selfie taking ability is still terrible!

Time for us to descend

The view from inside the train looking down

and that’s where we have been.

Once we had reached the train station it was a 3minute wait for the next train to arrive to take us to Bellinzona. With scenes like these along the way to keep us enthralled.

We arrived in Bellinzona in time for a bite to eat before we headed off to the Municpal buildings…we always seem to strike them when they close for lunch! Never mind, we again found a lovely small bistro where we enjoyed a bite to eat and some friendly banter with the staff.

someone looking a lot happier on terra firma, or perhaps it was the local Bier that helped?!

Off to visit the records office in Bellinzona, the capital of Ticino, where three people (two of whom had no English and the third a little) proceeded to discuss our request at high speed with a little hand waving, actually a lot of hand waving. The outcome of this was the same as what happened in Mendrisio, they could not help because of the time frame. However they did provide an email address of a Catholic Archive in Lugano which we will follow up later.

Time to head back on the hour long train journey to Mendrisio, it’s been a full on day.


November 5, 2017

We arrived in darkness and eventually found our hotel. After getting off the train we started looking at the maps we had with us, as well as google maps, also checking the notice boards at the train station to figure out where our hotel was, after he saying this way, and she saying no it’s that way, we looked up from our maps and directly across the road from the train station was our hotel staring us in the face!!! Well, that was easy.

As we had had a bite to eat in Milan we decided an early night was in order ready for a day of exploring. The next morning we headed down stairs to have breakfast in the hotel, although adequate, it was nothing to write home about so we made the decision to find our breakfasts elsewhere. Our first port of call today was to visit the Catholic Cathedral here in Mendrisio as we knew this was where Roy’s GGrandfather had been baptised.

Here in the canton (region) of Ticino, a ticket/voucher is issued by your accommodation provider which entitles you to free bus and train travel within the region plus a discount on other forms of transport and special tourist attractions plus free access to museums and the like. This is a brilliant scheme that we took full advantage of by catching buses into town and exploring the region via train.

Top map has Mendrisio marked by blue dot, the bottom picture is a closer version with Mendrisio marked in red.

We found the Catholic Church on top of a hill in the centre of Mendrisio. I have to add here that everything around here is either at the top or the bottom of a a bloody steep hill. You definitely need to have mountain goat genes to live here.

We went into the church for a quick look around. This church was replaced between 1863 and 1875 therefore Damiano would not have known this building. After wandering around the outside of the church we went inside for a look.

the church – La Chiesa dei SS. Cosma e Damiano Di Mendrisio

There was no one in sight anywhere so we had resigned ourselves to not having any luck today.

Just as we were about to leave a gentleman came in, through our limited Italian and his non existent English, we finally worked out that this was Father Claudio, the senior priest of the parish. Roy had written a bit of an intro and a list of names we were looking for and had used google translate which he had saved to his iPad which he showed to Claudio. With a flurry of oohs and ahhs, Father Claudio said follow me.

the Rectory

We ended up in the rectory next to the Church where he went and found another priest, this one spoke reasonable English and was very helpful. With more “follow me”, both men led us down two stories to the archive room where low and behold all the original Church registers are held.

With appropriate dates given, they found the right books for the baptismal records and we started to troll through the entries, how amazing to be able to handle and search through books over 300 years old (and no, we did not have to wear white gloves). Lo and behold we found Roy’s GGrandfather, however his name was registered as Santinus Damianus Vanini (note the one ‘n’ in the middle of the surname) but the details for his parents matched perfectly. We photographed the entry and then started looking for his siblings, we found just the one entry, for his sister Maria but the other two brothers who were born later were nowhere to be found. They could well have moved to another parish or even town by this stage.

Once we had exhausted all the options by searching the appropriate books, it was time for us to go, but not before Claudio disappeared for a moment or two to reappear with two books in hand as gifts for us! One book is on the Church and it’s history and the other on it’s Madonna. Now we just have to get our Italian up to scratch to read them, but the pictures are great!!

The priests would not accept anything in exchange for the books and we left feeling very lucky to have had such a welcome and such great assistance. Before we left the men suggested that we visit the local municipal building to check out records. They informed us that however were closed from 12 – 2pm so we had plenty of time for some lunch before we went.

We found a charming looking small bistro in the backstreets away from the main centre which was being frequented by both office workers and workmen alike. We were very warmly greeted, and sat down at a table for a drink to start with. We ascertained from the menu that today’s special was a chicken dish, we watched as others were brought the dish and it looked delicious. So that was my choice, Roy went with a pasta dish.

It was a great meal, so much so that all was required for dinner that evening was a snack!

Soon it was time to head to the municipal building to see what we could find. Unfortunately, we had no luck as they had no records prior to 1850 or 1860 as there was no central registry requirement in Switzerland at that time.  In fact, registry came in over a period of about 25 years Canton by Canton.  They did however suggest that we go to Bellinzona which is the Capital of Ticino Canton. We shall go there tomorrow.

Three cities & modes of transport in one day

November 4, 2017

Our next adventure has begun.

We left Alex & Ian’s by taxi to take us to the train station in Barnehurst where we were to catch the train into London Bridge and then transfer over to another train to take us to Gatwick Airport for our flight to Milan. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time so we had a late breakfast at the airport.

Our flight boarded a little late but we got away safely and were soon on our way flying over central France and then across the Alps.

We wondered if that was Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn poking high into the sky in the middle of the picture?

We landed at Milan’s Malpensa Airport 20 minutes early, great we thought, we can get on our journey sooner than we thought. But we were thwarted somewhat as apparently there was no ground staff available to set up the steps from the plane to the tarmac. The captain apologised profusely and had radioed his annoyance a couple of times to those involved but it was all out of his control and we just had to wait. After about 25 minutes we were off by bus to the terminal building to head through passport control and then onto another bus for the trip into Milan Centrale Rail Station.

We missed the first bus so it was a bit of a wait for the next one, we arrived at Milan Centrale Station in good time to purchase a train ticket to take us to Mendrisio in Switzerland. Actually, the buying of the train ticket was an adventure in itself. As we queued to talk to someone about which train and what ticket to purchase, a young man ushered us out of the queue to go with him to the automatic ticketing machine. Here he showed us what to do, helped us purchase the ticket and then he proceeded to pick up our bag and said “follow me”…..yes, we know what you are all thinking, the Vannini’s have been duped, and are about to be scalped….he asked us where we were from and then proceeded to tell us the names of the players of the NZ cricket team! He was from Bangladesh and a keen follower of cricket, he was of course not an offical guide but he was courteous and no, we did not disclose documents or wallets in his sight. He was just touting for a donation we figured. He led us to the right platform, and with a fond farewell and a few coins he was off. And yes we did check everything to make sure nothing was missing, all was in order and as there was armed Military and Polizei everywhere we felt pretty safe.

We were soon on the train for the final leg of our travels for the day. Mendrisio is not far from the Italian border near Lake Lugano in a finger of Switzerland that dips into Italy. (Indicated by the blue dot in the following map).

This is where Roy’s Great Grandfather Cosmo Damiano Vannini was born in 1836. We are hoping to be able to find some records of the family whilst we are here. Watch this space for more on that.

PS. Oh dear, it seems I cannot count as a taxi, bus, train and plane adds up to four modes of transport and I guess we could say that we also moved through at least four cities as well!!