As I mentioned in my last post, all of the first half of January is spent in Germany and Austria. Our last stop in Austria is Innsbruck. After our time there in the snow, we are heading on a very scenic train trip through to Switzerland (where there will be, you guessed it, more snow!). The just under 4 hours trip from Innsbruck from Zurich travels through the Arlberg Pass and is supposed to be another one of the best rail trips in Europe. The train also briefly passes through the tiny country of Liechtenstein, although we are not planning on stopping there.
On our 2012 trip we had just over a day (and 1 night) in Zurich. Our trip was in late October and we happened to experience the first snow of the season. The snow was exciting, but the 5 hours of torrential rain and sleet that preceded it was not. As a result our wanderings around the Old Town and trip to the zoo were cut a little short, due to be soaking wet and frozen! Despite the appalling weather we really enjoyed Zurich and have wanted to go back ever since.
On this trip we have 2 days and 2 nights in Zurich, and are hoping for less rain. The old town (alstadt) and niederdorf area are really fun to walk around, lots of cobblestone streets, cute buildings, quirky shops and great cafes.
Last trip some of the best cake and coffee we had was hiding in quaint Zurich cafes trying to warm up and dry out!
The very famous Bahnhofstrasse, which runs from the railway station to Lake Zurich is lovely to walk down. The high-end designer shops don’t interest us much, but their is an awesome old school toy store called Franz Carl Weber, which we will have to pay a visit again. It was full of amazing wooden toys, railways and miniature cable cars. A significant portion of our luggage last time was purchased from that store.
Last trip we didn’t get to visits Zurich’s Uetilberg mountain, but we are hoping to get up there this time, both for the views and the scenic walks in the snow. Weather cooperating we are also going to try and take a cruise along the Limmat River and see some of Lake Zurich by boat.
If we run out of things to do and it’s not too cold and snowy there is also the outdoor ice skating rink and the zoo. We loved Zurich zoo last time and only saw a fraction of it. It was the only zoo visit we’ve had with it snowing, and the animals in their heated enclosures seemed much less fussed than we were!
Lauterbrunnen (Bernese Alps, Switzerland)
From Zurich we are heading back up into yet more alpine areas for some snow fun. In 2012 we stayed in Interlaken for a couple of days so we could do the trip up to Jungfrau Joch, the highest railway station in Europe. On our trip up to Jungfrau we went through lots of the cute Alpine villages like Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen and wished we had of been staying there, rather than Interlaken (which is basically the equivalent to Jindabyne).
So for this trip we have booked three nights in a chalet apartment in Lauterbrunnen. The trip up to Jungfrau takes the better part of a day and we only had a short time to explore a couple of the villages last time, and no time to do any of the scenic walks in the Jungfrau region. This time our Alps activities will be entirely weather dependent. It’s highly likely to be minus 16 and snowing, but if we get some clear days we have plenty to keep us busy. There is the trip up to Jungfrau (which we aren’t likely to do again, but the other members of our travelling group are keen to try) or a trip up to Schilthorn, which also has spectacular views.
Aside from exploring the villages of Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Murren and Wengen (some of which are car free and can only be accessed by cable car) there countless walks between all the villages and mountain peaks. Many are prepared as Winter hiking trails and there are quite a few family friendly (read short and easy) ones that we are hoping to try if the weather allows. Last trip we spied so many people walking the beautiful valleys and mountain faces as we were ascending on the train and figured that one day we’d have to come back and try some of the walks!
If we haven’t had enough tobogganing by the time we get to Switzerland then there are plenty of huge runs not far from where we are staying. Including a 15km run between multiple villages. Unfortunately it involves a 2.5 hour hike carrying sleds so we probably won’t be doing that with the kids, but some of the shorter ones we can get to with cable cars are on the cards.
If the weather goes pear shaped, we will be drinking a lot of Swiss hot chocolate and watching the snow fall……. probably not the worst thing in the world either!
From the Bernese Alps we are heading into France, our final country on our trip. The train trip from the Alps through to Lyon is quite long and all the trains go through either Bern and/or Geneva. In 2012 we spent a day in Geneva, but didn’t get to Bern. Wanting to break up the trip and having Bern on my ‘want to go there’ list meant it was an easy decision to spend a day and night there.
The old town in Bern is yet another UNESCO world heritage listed site, and given it’s going to be covered in snow it should make for pretty viewing and keep my camera busy. There are plenty of buildings to explore and some nice walks along the River Aare and an open air ice skating rink.
We are also going to visit the Barenpark (Bear Park) right in the middle of the old town. The Bear is the mascot of Bern so they have 4 bears in the free bear park you can go and visit. The kids thought this sounded like fun, and should keep us occupied for upwards of 20 minutes!
We are also going to try and squeeze in a visit to Gurten which is Bern’s local mountain. In Winter it has tobogganing, as well as the year round activities like the miniature railway, observation tower and children’s play area.
From Bern we are heading to France for our final week of the trip. In 2012 we spent most of our time in and around Paris, but made a few trips out of the Paris region – to the Loire Valley and West to see Mont St Michel. We didn’t get as far South as Lyon, though so it was on the agenda for this trip.
We have planned 3 nights in Lyon and have plenty to keep us busy. We are planning on exploring Vieux Lyon (the old quarter) with it’s cobblestone streets, shops and cafes. Lyon is also famous for it’s Traboules – secret covered passageways that lead to hidden courtyards shops and apartments, so we are going to try and locate a few.
We will also take the funicular to Fourviere Hill to see Basilica Notre Dame and walk down through the Roman theatre ruins.
We are most definitely looking forward to experiencing some of the gastronomic delights of Lyon. After eating our way through Paris a few years ago, we have missed many of our French treats. Lyon is known as the gastronomic capital of France so we are sure to find plenty of tasty treats. We will also be stopping past Les Halles des Lyon Paul Bucose, which is a famous food market in the heart of Lyon. We visited several food markets during our Paris trip, but our favourite was the huge market in the town of Versaille. The offerings of cheeses, fruits, vegies, patisserie and freshly churned butter were to die for. Just looking at the pictures of the Lyon markets was making our mouths water!
Thanks to the high-speed TVG, the city of Avignon, in the South of France, is only an hour away from Lyon. Keen to see a bit more of France and see another walled city, we are using one of our days in Lyon to take a day-trip to Avignon.
We are hoping to start the day with a walking gourmet tour of the Avignon old town. which includes a visit to Avingon Les Halles and plenty of other fine food purveyors. It will also provide us with an opportunity to stuff our faces with more French food. Our kids being fans of both smelly cheeses and anything containing pastry chocolate, will have a ball!
With (hopefully) full bellies, we will explore the city ramparts and head to the Palais des Papes (Pope’s Palace) and the nearby Recher des Doms, a huge park with great views of the city and St Benezet Bridge (Pont D’Avignon).
There is also a free ferry service to Barthelasse Island, for views across the city, and of the Pope’s Palace. If we get hungry there are meant to be no shortage of places to find more tasty treats!
From Lyon we will head North to Paris for our final leg of the trip. Even though we spent the better part of 2 months in Paris in 2012, we didn’t even come close to seeing all that Paris has to offer. After 6.5 weeks of travel and with only 3 night and 4 days in Paris this time, we are leaving our itinerary fairly open.
Every member of our group (except Soren) has been to Paris before, so there isn’t any real need to tick off all the major sight-seeing items. I think we’ll head to the Eiffel Tower, just so Soren gets his obligatory photo. The rest of the time though will be spent wandering and eating, our favourite things to do in Paris!
We will try and pay Jardin du Luxembourg a visit, as Astrid always loved it on our last trip. A wander by the Seine and a stop in to Berthillon for some salted caramel icecream is on the cards, as are street crepes near Notre Dame, and macarons and hot chocolate at Laduree after a walk along the Champs-Elysees. I think the views from the Arc de Triomphe are better than those from the Eiffel Tower so if we want one more sight-seeing experience we might take the kids up.
We are also hoping to get in some shopping. Astrid’s Paris clothes are now all definitely too small and Soren needs his share. After Paris it’s only 1 more hauling of bags through to Charles de Gaulle airport, so we can probably add a little extra weight!
Speaking of extra weight. Providing my pants still fit after eating my way through Europe, we will be using our last few days to eat ALL the food. I’ve missed crunchy hot baguettes with cultured French butter, and perfect Parisian patisserie. I’m not sure how much food we can eat in 4 days, but we know all the best places to visit so can probably round them off pretty quickly. We didn’t come close to trying the array of delicious cakes on offer in our many weeks in Paris last time – and that was with having to eat two or three a day some days (oh the horror!). So, some difficult decisions are going to have to be made about which patisserie to consume but we’ve got a few months to plan (and salivate).
On the evening on Australia Day we will be packing our bags and heading to the airport for the long trip home (via Dubai and Melbourne). We will be back in Australia for the last few days of January and hopefully a good month of stinking hot weather to defrost and experience sunlight.
That rounds out our plans for the big trip. We are still madly booking accommodation, trains and tours but I’ll do a few update posts in the next couple of months before we head off.
I’m looking forward to blogging about our adventures and sharing at least some of the 10 thousand photos I’m likely to take!