Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Switzerland, September 2013

We set off early in the morning on the day after my birthday for Heathrow Airport, bound for sunny Lugano, supposedly the place in Switzerland clocking up the most hours of sunshine annually.
Lucky for us, the weather didn't disappoint and despite leaving London in the rain, we were met by beautiful Italian sunshine, which stayed with us as we crossed the border into Switzerland.
Even though the weather has only just turned autumnal back in the UK, it was so nice to have some summer conditions again! So back on went the shorts and swimwear and we hit the (lake) beach.

After a very quick change in Milan (if only all airports could have you off the plane, through passport control and out of the airport within 5 minutes!) and a quick Italian espresso to keep us awake, we were on the coach bound for Lugano.

Lugano is right on the Swiss-Italian border, so despite having an official language of German, most people speak Italian. If in doubt, English worked best - or certainly better than attempting to speak German or Italian, as everyone here seems to speak a minimum of three languages! Bizarrely we did get chatting (in French!) to an Italian at one point, whilst waiting to cross the road, so we were at least able to communicate a bit, though my language skills were otherwise put to shame in this European, multicultural, multilingual centre!

Lugano is a very pretty and cosmopolitan town, situated right on Lake Lugano. Its proximity to Italy means that if you go on any boat trips you need to take your passport as some of the beaches are Swiss and some Italian. Fortunately we were not caught short!

Switzerland's economic position also means that it's one of the most expensive countries on the continent - to put things into perspective, a bottle of wine in a restaurant costs a minimum of £30 or £40, despite being a wine-producing region, so we really had to do things 'on the cheap!' Lucky for us also that we were able to eat a hearty breakfast in our hostel, and food court 'Manora' kept us fed - and with good quality food - when we did come to eat out.

After a stroll along the shores of Lake Lugano, we headed north-west by train to Locarno, situated at the top of Lake Maggiore.
Whist maintaining the beauty of the Italian lakes region, Locarno is altogether a more relaxed town than Lugano. We were immediately charmed by its cobbled 'Piazza Grande', complete with big band playing popular classics, and lined with restaurants and gelaterias, their tables extending out into the square in the balmy evening.

Our hostel was simple but it did at least fall into our price bracket (not something that the rest of the accommodation in this area can boast) - so we made do with bunk beds and a shared bathroom and enjoyed getting back into the traveller’s way of life – so it was a shame this was just a long weekend away and not the beginning of a six-month trip!

Our second day was spent wandering along the shores of the lake, where we stopped for a swim (or just a wade, in Kev's case!), reading, sunbathing and generally relaxing; taking in the scenery and trying the delay the thought of the oncoming winter back home.
We enjoyed a delicious Italian pizza lunch, washed down with some Swiss beer and some lovely Italian gelato (diet and half marathon training will begin upon my return to London!)

Day three was bungy day - the day I was to do the James Bond 'Goldeneye' bungy jump off the Verzasca Dam: Europe's highest at 220 metres (whereas my previous highest was 135 metres in Queenstown, New Zealand). 
I was somewhat nervous as we approached the foreboding dam - it seemed enormous 'in real life'!
As we watched a few people throw themselves off the platform I genuinely wondered if I still wanted to do it (and at a Swiss price!) but no doubt there really - of course I did!
I had to wait some time before my go - and of the three people directly ahead of me, only one managed to jump - the other two turned back! The clue here was not to look down - just smile at the camera and look out over the mountains! As you might imagine, I loved every minute and smiled throughout the whole jump :-)

Here's a video of my jump:

I sent a few texts once down, reassuring people that I did indeed 'bounce back' then we enjoyed a walk back down the mountain (despite what 'Swiss efficiancy might have you believe, the buses are about as regular as they would be in a Cornish village, so we eschewed the 3 hour wait for the next bus and walked it!) We then bought a bottle of wine (decanted into plastic water bottles since we didn't have cups!) and sat at the end of the lake and watched the sun go down.

Our final day was a rainy one and around ten degrees cooler but it still made for a nice walk by the lake, the clouds low amongst the mountains, almost touching the water in places.

Unfortunately the bad weather seemed to be affecting both London and Milan too so our flight was delayed and we didn’t get home until after midnight (and with work to go to bright and early the next morning, it wasn't ideal), but all in all it was a fantastic trip - happy birthday to me! J