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Published: November 27th 2008
Emy and I feel almost sad to leave our Frauenfeld
home, a home that is never locked at night, where neighbors’ voices are hardly heard, where the only noises you’d hear would be the washing machine spinning or the coffee beans grinding. Or our loud Filipino voices and laughter! Moonlight, as we now call Lylah, and Papa, as we call Fredy , plus the 2 boys alternately called “sunshine” and “baby” by dear Lylah, have become our family in Switzerland.
But we paid good money to join this Trafalgar tour, so Lylah helped us get our bags in her car trunk once more, and dropped us off at our Zurich hotel (Hotel Renaissance). On the way to Zurich, Lylah showed us the sights in Wintherthur
…..where Fredy was born and raised , where his father continues to live, where they also used to live and run a boutique, and where Fredy still runs a printing press. That same afternoon, we joined our bus for an orientation tour of Zurich’s old town which included Fraumunster
and its lovely stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall. Just across we found Grossmunster
in its Romanesque splendor, which literally
means big (gross) cathedral (munster). Considered the “mother church” of Reformation in German-speaking Switzerland, the stained glass windows by Giacometti are just as lovely. The magnificent display of colors aptly complemented Giacometti’s Christmas story.
Of course , we didn’t miss Bahnhofstrasse,
considered Zurich’s elegant shopping street. Back in the hotel, we met Miranda our Tour Guide along with our fellow travelers on Trafalgar which included 9 USA-based Filipinos, 3 USA-based Koreans, 4 Australians, 2 Canadians, 3 Carribeans who found home in Florida, and Americans from Texas, Las Vegas, California. Miranda promised us a cheese fondue during the orientation meeting, but the fondue never made an appearance. We had chips and nuts.
August 28 Saturday
Early wake up call (gosh, the ordeal begins…..) for our motorcoach ride to Venice . Our Tour Director Miranda decided that we break our journey to do what we can do in Lucerne
today while the sun is out. So, we took our lake cruise today . Then, some from the group joined the cable car ride to the mountaintop of Stanserhorn.
Emy and I took the chance to instead explore the town where we found a small church, a market where we
Another cable car ride? No way.........
bought bread, and a small grocery. We then took the Gotthard Route via Bellinzona, with a stopover in Lugano.
Some snapshots again here and there in Lugano though the boys in the tour group were quite distracted by topless sunbathers in a nearby swimming pool by the lake. I like my picture with the Carribeans who call Miami, Florida their home now. One of them, Phoebe, claims I look like her therapist!
No stopover in Milan , which marks my first disappointment with Trafalgar! And there waiting in Mira near Venice was our 2nd disappointment. Hotel Il Burchiello should be spelled ILL Burchiello.
This small hotel is so far away from Venice, has hardly any nearby tourist landmark, serves very bad dinners (both of the porkloin or dehydrated roast beef variety ) and even has this old waiter (he maybe the owner of the small hotel) who had the nerve to show his disgusto when Emy and I showed up late for dinner. How on earth Trafalgar rated this hotel among the “first class hotels” is utterly unfathomable. Two dinners in a row, and no seafood. And I thought we were in Venice!
August 29 Sunday
I won’t talk about dinner tonite in ILL Burchiello. It’s a bad ending for what is to be a very good day for Emy and I in Venice. This , despite the Tour Director’s not so subtle proddings for the 2 of us to join the rest on the gondola ride and lunch cruise to the island of Burano.
Where do I begin? First, we started the day with mass at St. Mark’s Basilica.
The 9am mass in Italian in this Byzantine church on this sunny Sunday sets the theme for the rest of our journey throughout Europe. Today, I asked our good Lord to send us angels to guide us all throughout our trip and bring us back home safe and sound with happy memories. Which is exactly what we got, plus more. Emy and I walked around the Piazza San Marco and nearby alleys and found another church (St. Pancratius?) . Then we got ourselves a ticket to ride the ferry to Burano ….all for just 10 euros!!!! Wow, isn’t this a better deal than the 50 euros Trafalgar charged our fellow travelers for the lunch cruise to Burano? Wait till Miranda hears this!!!
With that in mind, Emy and I planned on a superb lunch in the island which we reached after some 45 minutes on the ferry and after 2 stops in Lido and Pta de Sabiano.
Burano is truly a quaint little Italian island town…….with its small two storied buildings and shops in bright orange, sunny yellow, pastel pink , royal blue and even magenta shades! They even have the equivalent of the leaning tower of Pisa in the island. But the highlight of this side trip lies in the seafood lunch its well managed little bistros and osterias have to offer. Emy and I feasted on seafood pasta and fried fish so fresh, served by the very hospitable bistro owner cum waiter. Of course, my half liter of prosecco went well with the seafood lunch.
After a good lunch, Emy and I had good reasons to digest our superb lunch by shopping around. On full stomachs, we bought our venetian glass pendants, wristwatches in bright yellow, green and the more conservative choco brown leather straps. We also got some shawls, but not the lacy types Burano takes pride in . On our ferry back to San Marco, we
decided to cancel plans to get off Lido and instead went straight back to join our group in San Marco. While sitting it out on the ferry , we saw our group’s private launch and thought we probably didn’t miss much fun. Nothing beats being with the locals, as we did on this ferry ride. The ride itself has many stories to tell….. from the patient father attending to his 2 little girls whose mother is in a real terrible mood she wouldn’t stop reprimanding the little ones, to the local teens who can do with some cologne, to the other tourists on board like us who wouldn’t stop spreading out and folding back their Venice maps.
At least, Emy and I didn’t feel so deprived when we faced off with our 2nd dinner at ILL Burchiello. We simply thought back of the superb lunch of fish and pasta we enjoyed in the island of Burano and the memory served us well. Besides, there’s all the watches and pendants we bought “to review” before calling it a night.
August 30 Monday
Another early wake up call. Breathing a sigh of relief that we are
finally leaving ILL Burchiello and its stern looking hotel owner, we joined our motorcoach for the ride to Imperial Vienna, Austria. Our Tour Director really hyped about how grand our hotel lodgings are in Vienna, reminding all of us that the hotel used to be a Royal Guesthouse right beside Schonbrunn Palace. Having said that , I knew the hotel must be in the city suburbs rather than the desired city center. I still remember having made that metro ride from the city center just to visit Schonbrunn Schloss sometime in 2000. Well, the hotel is ok though the courtyard “described by Tour Director Miranda” is really simply that, a courtyard. Nothing fancy about it. But the breakfast area is really one for the books. Adorned with a stage intended for performances complete with heavy burgundy curtains, the breakfast room is the best part of the hotel. Our rooms are not air conditioned though, and we had to pray that it will get cooler at night so we need not sweat in our rooms.
A lucky break is our decision to go to Schloss Schonbrunn
as soon as we got our bags in our rooms. Knowing where the
photo op spots are, our fotos speak for themselves. Ahem. Truly grand, the palace is a sight to behold. I got Emy to climb the stairs and do an “Evita” in one of the balconies. While our fellow travelers rested their limbs and soulfully unpacked their clothes or took their showers, Emy and I were in the Palace grounds happily snapping away! Good thing Emy finally got satisfied with her shots of this squirrel who just kept hopping away, we found time to visit the nearby St. Michael’s Church near our hotel. We heard mass in Austrian-German and repeated our prayers for a safe and fun journey.
On our way back to the hotel, we found this small café where we tried their “dumplings” to go with some pasta dinner, an experience that need not be repeated. Well, you can’t win them all. At least the café owner was very gracious.
August 31 Tuesday
Our first whole day in Vienna. Emy joined the optional tour of Schonbrunn Palace to see the interiors while I snored the morning away. By the time they were done, I was ready to join the ride to the city where
a local guide showed us Hofburg Palace
and nearby monuments and buildings. Snap , snap , snap for more photo shots. Too bad the Spanish Riding School is closed. That would have earned a visit from us.
I heard mass at St. Stephen’s Cathedral
and texted Emy to find her way to the church where I am seated exactly on the left side of the nave, 13th pew. After mass, we shopped around before queuing up at the Hotel Sacher
for the world famous sachertorte and sacherkoffee.
What can I say? The coffee with the chocolate liquor is very very good. But I won’t miss the sachertorte. Never mind that the hotel keeps in its vault the “secret recipe” for the chocolate cake. Our local bakers can whip up a better chocolate cake. Besides, their staff are so unfriendly. I asked for water only to be told that I have been served 2 glasses already and that if I like, I should order mineral water instead. The nerve. The waitress even tried to seat Emy and I in the bar, which we flatly refused as we insisted on a table of our own. Ayayay……….these 3rd world babes won’t
Emy will be watching a concert tonight without me. I saw one the last time I was here. While waiting for the bus to pick us up to bring some to the concert hall and the non-joiners back to the hotel, we did a few more rounds in the city center. I wasn’t as lucky as the other time I was in Vienna in terms of shopping. I loitered around with fish and chips on hand, viewed the shop windows and found none interesting enough.
September 1 Wednesday
Today, we leave Vienna and cross over to capital of Bohemia…. Prague.
Before reaching this Czech capital, we found time to stroll the gardens of Lednice Palace.
The Italianate gardens are real pretty . I took the chance to have photos taken with my new friends from the tour group, the Korean couple Harry and Grace with Harry’s sister Jung. And also Roger , an Elvis Presley wannabe from Las Vegas, traveling with his mom and stepfather.
In Prague, we stayed in this big but cold edifice called a hotel. The colossal hotel is very Communist in its coldness, but they
serve better meals and it’s buffet! Enough to warm our hearts and deprived stomachs. After a good dinner, we joined the optional illuminations tour with a local guide, Caspar. Caspar is one exacting, but thoroughly efficient tour guide. He measures his words, never more , never less. And all in a “what you need to know” basis. If I were to write a novel about some Czech spy, Caspar with an almost subtle limp will be that character. He showed us Hradcanny Castle
grounds, took us on this small train ride that brought us to the old town square (Stare Mestro)
where the Tyn Church,
very Bohemian Gothic in architecture, dominates the entire Old Town Square.
On our way back to the hotel in the fringes of the city (where Tram No. 8 ends) , we couldn’t help but notice how lively and vibrant nightlife is in Prague. The many students going to university in this capital probably explains it. But I will likely place my bets on the fact that this Bohemian capital boasts of many good jazz clubs and reasonably priced beers! The small alleys and bends are littered with tiny pubs and jazz joints. Wish
Emy and I braved going out and trying out these pubs! Perhaps, another time.
September 2 Thursday
Still in Prague, enjoying a hearty breakfast. Soon after, Caspar gave us a city tour starting with the Hradcanny Castle. In full daylight, we saw the palace grounds dominated by the towering St. Vitus Cathedral and St. George’s Basilica. Caspar explained that the uniforms of the Palace guards were designed by the same celebrity costume designer for the movie “Amadeus”. Hmmm, it pays to have an artistic and talented playwright as the president of the country. Such dramatic flair can only be President Vaclav Havel’s. Caspar didn’t fail to tell us also that much of the film was actually shot in Prague, rather than in Salzburg where Mozart was born or in Vienna, where he stayed . Oh, one last thing: Mozart conducted the premiere of his “Don Giovanni” in Prague no less in 1787!!! Richard Wagner also gave guest performances in this Bohemian capital.
Passing by the Toy Museum,
we went through the old castle steps and found our way back in the Old Town Square to view the Stare Mestro in full daylight this time
while waiting for the Astronomical Clock of the Old Town Hall strike the hour and do its parade of the 12 apostles. This main attraction in the Old Town Square is worth the neck-breaking wait for the clock to strike the hour. After this, we were given time on our own for lunch and some shopping. Emy and I found ourselves buying corn on the cob which managed to drip on Emy’s jacket, blouse and shoes. Too tired to notice? Obviously not, as we still went shopping for Infant Jesus of Prague ceramics, old black and white Prague photos lovingly framed, and other souvenir items. One thing I can say about the Czech, they are certainly friendlier than the Austrians. Lunch was in a small Chinese restaurant we found near a supermarket . Rice, glorious rice!! After lunch , we tried looking for marionette theaters only to learn that most marionette plays are in the evenings. We stopped ourselves short of going to Wenceslaw Square
and lost our chance to pass by the lovely Franciscan Gardens and the majestic National Museum. Our feet won’t carry us any further.
Back to our meeting place at Hotel Intercontinental. As Caspar
instructed, we went through the only street shaded with plane trees, straight up to the hotel with many flags just before a bridge with a metronome (our 2nd meeting place) . Very precise. Very exact. We waited by a bronze statue of a woman with her right hand reaching out as if asking for alms. Naturally, we couldn’t resist posing exactly like the statue. There were other tourists there but only we posed that way. It must be a Pinoy thing.
Next we went to Karmelitska Street where we found the Infant Jesus of Prague,
a Spanish Renaissance gift given to the Church of Our Lady Victorious. This was the first Baroque church in Prague. While intended for use by German Lutherans back in 1611, the Church fell to the Catholic Carmelite Order. It has since been a destination for pilgrims from all over the world. It also soon became a favorite hangout for pickpockets . Someone in our tour group had a bad experience of having her bag picked. Good thing she sensed it and the Filipina beside her pushed the thief who dropped her wallet. Gosh, they are everywhere in Paris, Rome, Madrid, and now in
Then , Caspar brought us to the Opera House
where an old humorous man insecure with his limited English showed us around . The performance hall was impressive, but the highlight of the tour should really be the way this funny septuagenarian gave a history of the place accompanied by his piano “recitals” for us all. He was just too funny in his eagerness to please us with his own renditions of Mozart’s great classics.
Finally, we found ourselves in Mala Strana , the Little Town or Small Quarter
which is a good anteroom to the magnificent Charles Bridge.
Awesome. Just awesome. We could have enjoyed staying longer on the bridge but the fear of pickpockets along with many artists vying for tourists’ attention somehow stains our respect and awe for these marvelous monuments and historic bridges. It was difficult to digest the beauty of the place while holding dearly to one’s pockets.
After this, we were again on our own, strolling around and accidentally finding the Rudolfinum
which houses the Dvorak concert hall along the Vlatva River . This neo-Renaissance building honors the 2nd Czech musical genius. Heading for the only
bridge with the metronome, we found ourselves too early for the rendezvous. So we strolled along the banks of the Vlatva River, had a cold soda which Emy thinks is too expensive, and enjoyed the breeze.
Before calling it a night, there was also time to drink a few but heavy mugfuls of beer in this pubhouse where this Czech accordionist played music and entertained us. If you ask me, I would have appreciated instead a saxophonist jazzing up some music for us. Incidentally, Tour Director Miranda promised us a Folklore Dinner Show which never came. We overheard her asking the hotel staff if there is a group performing tonight and the hotel staff said no. When someone in the tour group reminded her about the promised folklore show, Miranda lied through her teeth and said it’s no good anyway. At this point, her credibility with Emy and myself plummeted down to zero.
September 3 Friday
A not so early morning wake up call. It’s not too far from Czech to Munich ,
I guess. We passed by Pilsen as if to remind us that we are moving from the Bohemian beer capital to
the German beer capital.
While on the motorcoach, we saw some of Munich’s monuments as well as the Olympic area. We were dropped off in this square with another astronomical clock to wait for the appointed hour for some “parade of statues” much like what we found in Prague. Before then, I took the time to go to the St. Joseph’s Church and yet another church whose name I can’t recall. It’s a bigger church and I found an Adoration Chapel inside with some devout Catholics singing hymns . I felt like there were angels singing a sweet melody. Then it was time to head back for the square to watch the clock strike the hour and this time the “parade” included a joust ….. some medieval story to tell and it spanned some 8 minutes I think. No wonder, the Australian Noreen, lost her battery while trying to film the whole episode. She claims her camera’s battery went dead just seconds before the highlight of the parade. I craned my neck to the very last minute and worried I couldn’t put my head back in its normal place . After the clock spectacle, the tour group is
supposed to assemble in the middle of the square for a walk down to the Hofbrauhaus.
I took time to get inside the Town Hall and take some shots , only to find the whole group waiting for moi. Oops…….
We found Hofbrauhaus with the oom pah pah band as just another hall with people downing mugs and mugs of beer. What is so awfully wrong here is that we were in such a great place with what seems to be a good band with some really good beer to drink , but at the wrong time! We could have done better going to the Hofbrauhaus after , and not before our German dinner of beef with red cabbage or pork accompanied by that very German sauerkraut. And speaking of dinner, we had a real lousy and salty German dinner. It must be the place…..I mean, I am sure we could have found a better place serving better German food. Urghh….and we all looked forward and paid good dollars for this optional dinner!
September 4 Saturday
From Munich to Lucerne,
we had a late start which is a welcome relief! On the way to
Lucerne, we made a stopover atLiechstentein.
Many from the group paid for stamps on their passports. Emy skipped that and instead explored the very small principality. Emy shopped for some items while I strolled around and found this Liechsteinstein National Museum. The principality didn’t have much to offer though.
This and only this time, Trafalgar billeted us in a hotel within the city center. Can’t go wrong with a hotel just a few meters away from the famous Chapel Bridge of Lucerne. Emy and I took the chance to have our snapshots with the bridge in the background as well as walk through the bridge to cross the river and hear mass in this Catholic Church in Lucerne. It was a lovely mass with lots of singing. The Swiss couple beside me were so nice they kept pointing out to me the pages so I can sing along with them. But everything was in Swiss German, so how? Well, I tried. They hardly noticed.
After the mass, we took the same route to get back to Hotel Flora. We were lucky to have a group comprising some Philharmonic orchestra billeted in the same hotel.
It’s a small hotel and it’s pleasing to listen to some of these orchestra members “rehearse” in their rooms.
September 5 Sunday
Many in the group have left early morning for the bus ride to the Zurich airport. Only about 6 of us stayed behind to enjoy a late breakfast. The Canadian couple are excited over their holiday extension in Engelberg, while the Australians Noreen and Jacky had an early start for Interlaken. Emy and I eagerly waited for Moonlight Lylah to pick us up for our trip down south to Saas Fee to view the oldest glaciers.
And so it went that our breakfast served as an early lunch. Brunch , if you like. By the time Lylah fetched us, we were bursting at the seams. The vistas from Lucerne to Interlaken
are fabulous. Very blue waters (even more blue than Austria’s Blue Danube) with sailboats dotting the lakes. Then some 3 hours of driving towards Goppenstein
…. On land, across the mountain on the Kandersteg (auto on rails!), on land again. It was some experience to ride the Kandersteg,
and it only cost SwF25 each way. But alas, we missed the ice grotto
in Saas Fee by just 10 minutes. All because we made the mistake of circling the small town to get to the cable car terminal. We could have just taken the lift in the parking lot and headed straight for the cable cars, but no luck. Oh well, at least we saw the small Swiss chalets, the old wooden stilts, the bobsleigh rides, and this noveau ride where one hangs from a rope much like you’d pin your laundry on a clothesline and slide real fast from end to end. So much for adventure…….When I told Fredy we missed him on the ride down to Saas Fee,
he said “Then I would have missed the ice grotto as well…” Ho hum, swiss humor.
On our way back to Frauenfeld, we stopped by this hotel-restaurant called Brunig-Kulm Gasthaus
for our much coveted Cheese Fondue. Wow. White wine, a variety of cheeses mixed with wine and kirsch, bread lumps, and voila! Hmm, what joy! And we ate dinner with this whole vista of mountains ! Of course we left room for very Swiss dessert called Vermicelle Rahm
or something made of chestnut paste looking like pasta strips topped with merengue! Oh wow……never mind that we missed the ice grotto. Gives us a good reason to be back in Switzerland.
September 6 Monday
After a late night, we slept through most of the morning. Then we did the laundry. Emy and I took turns hanging our clothes to dry. Good thing the sun’s out. We need clean clothes for our Russian tour!!!!
By this time, our minds are set on the trip to St. Petersburg and Moscow. After the ordeal of getting our Russian visa, we thought we just go ahead as planned despite the disturbing news on Russia. It wasn’t enough that 2 Russian domestic planes crashed minutes apart, there was the more unsettling Beslan school siege where more than a thousand , mostly children, were held hostage by Chechen rebels. We can only pray again that God will keep us safe and healthy, and surround us with His angels to protect us from harm.
Tonight’s farewell dinner with our Swiss family consisted of baked veal smothered with herbs and that famous Rosti which is really the Swiss equivalent of hash brown. Except that it tastes much better. We also had more cheese varieties to complement our meal: Emmi Apero Brinz (very expensive), appenzeller extra, Thurgauer Rohmkose, and Bonaparte.
Impressed? I got all these cheese titles from Lylah’s grocery receipt!!!! And then there’s the Sprungli chocolates for dessert. More wows for our gracious hosts. She really made sure we got our Swiss holiday.
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