Tuesday, August 31, 2010


In the summer months, I love to bring my daughters here and let them loose to play with these series of subterranean and synchronized water jets near the Broken Chair monument, located right in front of the United Nations plaza.

Of course, as what the pics showed, children are not the only one who were having loads of fun! Dads, mums, grandparents, nannies, singles, married couples, all were having their share of happy water playing moments. Bathing suits, bikinis and the ever popular seluar katok (its a universal thing!) were the dress code for this popular spot. Even the Middle Eastern tourists hang around here, in their purdah and chadors.

A great place to do some people watching, especially the antics of the children who really enjoy themselves playing with the water.


The one thing Matterhorn reminds me during my young and ignorant days is that it was the name of a cheap cigarette brand back then. Its a menthol, so I guess thats what it refers too, you know, cooling menthol cigarette like the the cool Matterhorn. Its just a theory of course, but I strongly suspect, that was the connection. :)

Zermatt, the Alpine tourist village where Matterhorn lies just nearby on top of the mountain range, is about 3 hours drive from Geneva. Of course, this is a must visit place in Switzerland, and I planned to hit all the top tourist spot while I am here. Alang-alang dah duduk kat sini, rugi kalau tak pergi tengok.

With my love one and daughters tagging along, we drove to Visp, about 2 hours drive, park our car there and hop on the train to Zermatt. The number one reason I did that was they dont allow any fossil fuel run vehicle to be driven in Zermatt. Its banned. Meaning, no fumes discarding transportation are allowed. Its to keep the air in Zermatt especially, fresh and clean. The second reason was that, taking the train will allow me to indulge in my picture taking hobby, without any interruption. (Not that I tried taking pics while driving though, if you are wondering).

Gorgeous viewS, with valleys, and rivers along the way while the train heaved itself up the mountain tracks. Arrived in Zermatt after about one hour.

Zermatt was packed with tourist from all over the globe. Thats the best way to describe the hustle and bustle of this alpine town. From here one can go hiking up to Matterhorn or visit the many glaciers on the mountain range. Mountain biking, para gliding are but many other options available for the active and nature loving tourists.

Us? None of that, thank you. We just strolled in and out of the cobbled streets and and alleyways in Zermatt, soaking up its busy atmosphere. Horse carriages were not a rare sight here. Its served to transport the newly arrive tourists to their respective accommodations. Theres the small and compact taxis, run and fed by their battery juices of course. If you dont like getting cramped in the taxis, choose mountain bike instead and if that still doesnt suit you, just walk to get around.

The best place to view Matterhorn is on the bridge in the center of the town near Zermatt's old chapel where its cemeteries are packed with graves of fallen mountaineers who unfortunately met their final destiny while scaling the majestic Matterhorn. I went to visit the cemetery and read the their families final farewells and thoughts carved on their tombstone. Some were really quite moving. About 500 climbers had died 1865 up to 1995. A deadly mountain, to say the least.

The children wanted to learn something about the Zermatt's and Matterhorn, so we hit Zermatlantis, a local museum dedicated in preserving the history of both places. Old climbing gears, cameras, even the original clothing of a dead mountaineer were prominently displayed inside the museum. The children thought it was cool, since they could see how things were back then.

Its interesting to note that Matterhorn are shared by both Italy and Switzerland.

Food was rather expensive in Zermatt, and so were other stuff. Souvenirs cost a lot more here than other popular tourist spots I have been in Switzerland. Its the same phenomenon all over the tourist world, I suppose. Charge the tourist as much as they could. Capitalism and free market at its worst.

That aside, we had a wonderful time in Zermatt. We viewed the famous Matterhorn (the mountain, not the menthol cigarette, mind you), had a blast learning a little bit about the history of this alpine kampung and its famous but deadly mountain.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


When I was in Vancouver, Canada, I wanted to go visit the Niagara Falls. But since it was so far (driving non stop would take me about 2 days) and the very expensive air tickets costs (2 adults, 3 children) deterred me from going there.

Being here in Europe, taking cue from Switzerland's Tourism website I went to see Rhine Falls, the largest waterfall in Europe. I first saw this falls in Amazing Race, the reality TV series where the contestants have to cross the river the big rock in the middle of the falls, climbed to the top and retrieve the race clue in the cluebox . I remember thinking it must be so cool to actually be there on top of the rock amidst the thunderous gushing waters on both sides.

Located near the town of Schaffhausen in the north of Switzerland and near the German border, the Rhine Falls is 150 metres wide, 23 metres high and the average volume of water that rush through this nature's monster are 700 m3 per second.

The entrance was easy to find and after parking the car, we went to buy the tickets at the counter. Major currencies accepted.

Trails leading to the river and waterfalls are paved and was quite easy to follow. We crossed a rail bridge to get to the other side of the river where there were boats to bring deliver you up close and personal to the Rhine falls.

I, of course wasted no time to get to the rock. "Rugi kalau tak experience pegi lepak kat batu besar tu jap". My love one and daughters decided not to go since she and I thought it looked a bit dangerous for young children to climb it.

The boat revved up its engine, fighting the strong current to land us at a wooden jetty at the bottom of our rocky destination. Surprisingly, we were sheltered well enough by it walls from the mist of waters around us that we did not get wet. The metal stairs to the top were narrow and slippery. Who says traffic jam happened only on the road? It occurred here too, since the viewing platform was so small it can only accomodate about 10 people at any one time. So we have to stand and que up on the stairs until someone up there decided they had soaked up enough views, experiences or whatever and leave, and gave other eagerly waiting crowd a chance to do the same.

I was finally up there on the jotting rock in the middle of Rhine falls. The views were quite awesome, the sound of roaring water easily drowned any voices and the rushing waters were spectacular to look at. I wasted no time and snapped the obligatory pics. After about 20 minutes, I made the way down to wait for the pick up boat. It was a really cool experience.

I meet up with my family, took the boat to cross to the side and climbed the inclining path to by the cliff to where we parked our car

Another good outing day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Early June this year, I took a break from my weekly cycling ritual and instead, packed all my family and a friend, JD into my second hand SUV and went off to explore the mountains of Italy and Switzerland.

My aim was to drive through roads less traveled by tourists and explore the mountain region of Switzerland, all the way to Mendrisio, where the most talked about factory outlet Foxtown is located and drive back to Geneva through the (almost) 17 km long Gotthard Tunnel, (the third longest road tunnel in the world).

I did not planned to drive pass through ITALY, but more of that later.

View Larger Map


We started our journey at 7.00 pm and drove towards Montreux and continued on to the place where the river Rhone more or less orignated, town of Briggs. (Some people say Rhone started its long flows to the Mediterranean from Andermartt, a town located further up the mountain road. And perhaps they are right). Weather was pretty bad with dark clouds and occasional rains. The view however, was still beautiful and breathtaking. We passed through Martigny (where I cycled to last week). The A9 highway passed through the Rhone valley with the two majestic mountain ranges looking down on from both sides, its slope dotted with vineyards. Wheat farms and other plantations carved the valley floor on each side of the road for miles. We drove through medieval villages and pretty little towns along the way.


Arriving in Brigs, we stopped for a little while from bathroom breaks. Its been almost 2 hours drive from Geneva and the A9 highway ends somewhere here. I plotted the GPS for the route to Mendrisio and JD took over the driver's seat. Following the GPS direction, we continued with our journey. Half and hour later, JD told me that he had drove pass this part of the country but looking at the surroundings and the view, he cannot recall anything that look familiar. We glanced at the GPS and its still giving out instructions and routes to take. I said "GPS bagi route lain kot?". JD shrugged his shoulders and commented " Kalau tak betul dia dah recalculate dah. That means we are on the right track." Putting our trust in the modern technology marvel, we decided to press on.

The view was really breathtaking with the valley spread like a carpet at the foot of the mountains. Its also very high. For a person with a fear of heights like me, its quite scary since the road we were traveling on was cut through the very edge of the mountains, and I was looking at thousands of feet of sheer drop. Other parts of the road were built on high cliffs hugging the mountain slopes. I could see the whole valley, tiny houses and square shape farmlands thousand of feet down below (tried not to look down out of the car window too much since darah berderau).

We drove for about one hour climbing the mountains until we reached the snow lines. Yes, snow still on the mountain top here, even in summer. (Snow lines normally formed at the height of nearly 2,800 feet above, so imagine how high we were). My youngest daughter, who has been very quite at the time, suddenly said "Ibu, I think I am deaf. My ears keep on buzzing and popping!" We all laughed at her remarks and my love one explained to her "No, you are not getting deaf, your ears is just fine, it happens because we are high on the mountain, swallow as often as you can, and it will get better".

JD and I were still discussing about the GPS when we arrived in Simplon. We were still confident we would not deviate from our planned route going to Mendrisio via the Swiss mountain road when suddenly, we saw a sign post "Doune". " Damned! Its the Swiss/ Italian border and we didnt bring our passports. Without which the Italian border officials could turn us back and after negotiating the horror of the high mountain roads for almost 2 hours, we were quite reluctant to turn back. We decided to try our luck anyway. Surprisingly, the border officials lazily waved us through the check point. (Note: Traveling between EU countries does not require stamping of passport. The problem was, Switzerland is not an EU country and we did not bring our passports since our plan was to travel within Switzerland). We shouted thank you to the Italian official and quickly continued our way to Mendrisio through the unplanned Italian route to our destination. I was cursing the GPS under my breath. I was thinking that perhaps this border crossing was located so far away that the Italian border officials adopted a very relax attitude. Looking back, we were more lucky to cross the border without any traveling documents way before the 2010 World Cup, since I suspect Italy's elimination in the first round will definitely adversely effect the border officials emotions.


We drove to Domodossola, the next Italian town in our way according the cursed GPS.

I was surprised to see a lot of cyclist here since these mountain roads and the elevation was so high, with long narrow elevations. I observed that the numbers of elderly man and woman cyclist more or less equals the younger ones. Which really say something about these Italians. No wonder they are a force to reckon with in the cycling world, and no wonder some of the best road bikes and bicycles were designed by the Italians. If an average old guys could cycle up the mountains with ease, then the younger ones should, logically top that with no problems.

The thing is, I'd observed the people here really are into the active life thing. Not just with cycling others jogged and even skied, never mind in the middle of summer, like the guy in the pic below. That should say something about these people way of life.

There's a lot of contrast I noticed after entering Italy. For one, the drivers were not as disciplined as the Swiss on the road. Road condition was quite bad, tunnels were dirty and not well maintained compared to Switzerland. But I have seen worse back home.

We arrived in Domodossola, after a long way down the mountain.


From here we head towards Locarno, a Swiss town about 45 km away. We had to climb a mountain again and crossed the Italian/ Swiss border near the Swiss town of Cameda. This is the Italian part of Switzerland and people here speaks Italian. (Note: Switzerland have 4 official languages which are French, German, Italy and Romansh).

The road was really narrow and can fit only one car at one time. High cliffs on the left side of the road and deep gorges and ravines on the rights side. A river cuts through the gorges down below, flowing towards Locarno and ends up at Lake Maggiore. Reminded me of the old James Bond movies location.

We dont have any problems exiting Italy at the border, since there was nobody there at the entry point. No nothing, just a run down old building in the middle of the road. So we just drove passed through slowly and continued our way to the Swiss border post which was also the same. No one there too. I guess thats not very odd here since not a lot of tourists who came this way and perhaps only local people uses this road.

We continued our journey to Locarno.


After Locarno, we pushed on to Mendrisio. I was glad since the route there was a highway all the way. There was accident and traffic froze, bumper to bumper. Beat the traffic jam by entering a maintenance road (which were not allowed, but hey, we are Malaysians, and we do that sort of thing!) and headed towards Bellinzona and drove through the old road to Lugano and straight to Mendrisio.


Foxtown is a factory outlet which (supposedly) sell designer labels products at low price.

I have to say that I was really not impressed with this factory outlet. I mean, back in Malaysia, our malls are much, much more bigger and spacious compared to Foxtown. The prices were not that cheap as advertised either. Anyway, its just not my cup of tea.


We went back to Geneva using the other route and this time its via the third longest road tunnel in the world, the Gotthard Tunnel. 16.4 kms to be exact!

Its a weird feeling to drive through this long tunnel with the whole mountains on top. The children were counting the km mark as we passed each one.

After a long almost 6 hours drive, we arrived back in Geneva. Its a long and tiring journey but was well worth it since the journey was truly off the usual beaten track and we had the opportunity to see those wonderful and breathtaking views. Credit to my daughters for being on their best behavior and a good sport.

And no, I still didnt get over my fear of heights.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I heard a lot about this UNESCO listed place. With castles (or chateau as they were called in French) scattered along the river Loire and its tributaries, it just begs me to visit it.

I booked an accommodation in Mettray, a small village on the outskirt of the city of Tours through Gite.com, recommended by France Guide, the official France Tourism website.

(Gites or holiday house are available to rent all over France. Offering basic accommodation facility comparable with most hotels, it is cheaper to rent, especially for families. Price range is from EUR 350 - EUR 1,000 plus, depending on high/ low seasons and locations. A good alternative to be considered for long vacations.)

The journey to Loire Valley took about 6 hours from Geneva through France central region. The highway is excellent by any standards but as in Malaysia, tolls charges have to be paid. The countryside was line up with miles and miles of cattle ranch. Wheat and sunflowers fields also dominated the view on the way to Loire Valley.


I promised my children a visit to Disneyland, so the first day program was solely concentrated on the Mickey Mouse affair. Needless to say, they were quite happy to spend their time there and accumulated a whole lot of Disneyland souvenirs. A lot of people as expected, being at the height of summer and all, but very, very fun. (It is my humble opinion however that Disneyland lack rides, thus the long queue). Regardless, there were still a lot of things to do and explore. We hit all the `lands', watched the Disney's characters concert twice and before we knew it, the day was over.


Off to the town of Brouges, France about 1 hour drive from Mettray. Ever since reading Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code and the highly controversial The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, I wanted to view Gothic architecture and theres one cathedral there in Brouges where I can view the magnificent high ceiling and beautiful stained glasses incorporated in its walls. I was really impressed.

On the way back we stop at Chateau de Valencay for a tour.


Let me say that, sometimes GPS will avoid main roads and gave directions to go through a backroad just because its the calculated route is shorter in distance to the destination. Thats what my GPS did, anyway.

We were on our way to see Chateau de Chanonceaux, when I suddenly realize that we had left the main road at a turn somewhere and ended up being on a narrow back road in the middle of the nowhere with 2 huge wheat harvesting machines heading straight toward us. Cant compete to stay on the road with these 2 huge beasts, so we back up and unceremoniously, let them passed. I swear the French farmer made a mocking, grinning face at us when they drove passed our car.

In GPS we trust? Erkkk, only sometimes!

Chateau de Chanonceaux was impressive to say the least. It was built right across the river Char. Spent the whole morning and had our lunch there.

We then drove to Chateau de Villandry to view its famous medieval garden. The castle itself was a okay, but the garden just took my breath away. Neatly arranged were rows of flowers and plants across a huge compound. I am running out of words to describe it, so take a look at the photos.


Visiting Eiffel Tower, I really think it has lost its charms, no thanks to the horde of souvenirs peddlers at its base. They are so many of them around! Its no an exaggeration to say that their numbers were as many as the visiting tourists. I was surprised when one of them approached and asked me, in Malay "Sudah beli ka?. I just smiled and thought, wow, there must be a lot of of Malaysians who visited Eiffel Tower since I am sure the souvenirs peddler must have picked the language from them.

I chose to walk along the river Seine from Eiffel Tower to Musee du Louvre, enjoying the Paris street scene and dragging my children with me. Thankfully they did not complain since it was quite a distance for them (4.9 km).

We ended our French Holiday visiting the Hard Rock Cafe Paris, a must go place for my love one and me. Yeap, we collect HRC tshirts and souvenirs. (I am a HRC member too!). :)

I would say Paris does have a lot of interesting places to visit and I regret that I dont have enough time to visit it all.

Perhaps thats a reason enough for me to think that a visit to Paris is in order (again) next summer.