Mountains and Canals

Trip Start Aug 31, 2009
Trip End Jan 08, 2010

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Flag of Switzerland  , Luzern,
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I have to go back to Grindelwald, Switzerland. I must.  Words cannot describe the natural beauty of the Swiss Alps, it is absolutely incredible.  On Christmas Eve we arrived in Interlaken, Switzerland and boarded a private train to Grindelwald (of course, "private" = an extra $15 fee, our Eurail passes didn't work).  The train ride from Heidelberg to Interlaken gave us a small glimpse into what was in store for us – nothing but beautiful, snow covered mountains all around us.  As we slowly made our way into the teeny, tiny town of Grindelwald I knew we were fortunate to have chosen this destination for Christmas.  Grindelwald reminded me of Big Mountain Resort but it’s even a little smaller.  It has a population of less than 4,000, an elevation of around 4,000 feet, and sits at the foot of the Eiger Mountain.  While we didn’t actually do much during our visit it was still one of the greatest trips I’ve been on.  I could have stared out the window and watched the snow fall on the Alps for hours.  It seemed like mountains jutted straight up out of the earth in every corner.   There are many gondolas and trains you can take to the top of the Alps; however we would have had to spend our life savings to partake in any one of these excursions.  A gondola ride cost 45 CHF (Swiss Francs) a person; the train to the “Top of Europe” (the Jungfrau Mountain) cost 150 CHF a person.  We even paid 25 CHF for a PIZZA while we were there.  Because of its secluded location and the fact that primarily tourists that take advantage of the winter activities in Grindelwald the prices for everything, from skiing to fondue, are exorbitant.  So, while it will be a while before we return to Grindelwald, return we will, and this time we’ll save up for gondola and train rides to the top to fully enjoy the Alps experience.

The day after Christmas we boarded a train to Venice.  As we approached Milan I found it disorienting to see snow on the ground and in the pine trees…right next to palm trees.  We arrived in Venice after dark and took a water bus to the area of town where our hotel was located, which was arguably the best decision we made during our trip, we would have hopelessly wandered through Venice over countless bridges until the wee hours of the morning otherwise. Unlike Grindelwald, I feel no such need to return to Venice.  I thought it was a little dirty and depressing.  I really only liked the beautiful hand blown glass art available all over the city.  It is for this reason Alex will take over on the Venice portion of the blog as he seemed to enjoy the city much more than I did.

I thought Venice was amazing.  You really cannot describe the feel and the sights and smells of this floating city.  Venice is a group of small man made islands all linked together by one large canal and many smaller ones with over 400 bridges.  It is the only truly pedestrian city in the world, no cars anywhere, only boats.  Things are a bit more expensive in Venice, and many of the buildings are in a slight state of disrepair, but this is all because everything must be brought in by boat and, I felt it added to the antique feeling.   We wandered for a bit when we first got in until we found our hotel.  It was a one star place that was a little dirtier than Christine cared for, but it kept the rain off our heads.  Also, there was no hair dryer or wifi internet like the website had promised, so this further added to our frustration with the Albrego San Samuele.  It may seem petty to want internet when in Venice, but this is really how we have come to plan all our travels and itineraries well in Europe.  As well as communicate with all of you. We did find a dryer eventually, and we managed to figure things out sans the net, but it was a little more difficult. 

That night we ate at a Ristorante right near the hotel and had our first taste of authentic Italian food.  We had Risotto with sea food and vegetables, cod with polenta and a liter of the Vini Della Casa Rosello (House Red Wine) that was cheap, but superb.  We found a wine shop next door that sold liters for 5 euro, and I definitely can say that we took advantage of this deal during our stay.    The rest of our meals in Venice were either pizza or Panini.  We would have liked to try some more Venetian dishes well there, but like I mentioned earlier things are very expensive and a couple pizzas and some wine was enough to make us happy and keep our wallets a little more full.  Pizza here is delicious.  It is literally sold everywhere and in every ristoronte, so one must be discerning and seek out the finest slices.  We had some bad, but also some very good pies.  Pizza is thinner on this side of the pond and the toppings are less liberally spread, but the home-made tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella is incredible.  Pair these with some spicy sausage and a glass of the house red, and you’re in Italian heaven.  I will eat pizza here until Christine finally has had enough.  After our last four meals of pizza, I sense this will be sooner than later.

Besides eating, we did a lot of wandering in Venice as well.  In the true Venetian fashion, we would leave the map at home and just set out in a general direction towards where we wanted to go.  I could wander narrow alleys and cross small footbridges in Venice for weeks if I had the time.  The water is a beautiful shade of light marine green (although we read it is quite polluted) and the gondolas and arched bridges are everywhere you turn.  There are narrow alleys and streets all over and numerous bridges, but no direct routes anywhere.  There are buildings that are only accessible from the water, and sometimes you must go in circles to get to the next block over.  We walked all of Venice and saw every church and piazza that there was.   Then we went looking for gifts in the glass shops and were able to find a few beautiful souvenirs.

The second day we had been walking for hours, and I was complaining about how I wanted a drink, but it was too early to start on the wine again and almost magically, an Irish Pub appeared before us.  We were the only customers in the place and the woman that ran the pub was very nice and accommodating.  After a few pints of thick, delicious stout ale, we were back on our way.

I would definitely like to return to Venice one day and have only one regret from our time there.  We never got to take a romantic gondola ride.  They are ridiculously expensive, and at this time in our travels, just out of the question.  Someday we will return a little older and a little wealthier and we’ll take that ride, at night with the accordion player and singer, but until then it is on to Florence and more exploring.  Ciao!
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