Monday, January 21, 2013

PURE SWISS



Lucerne has got the lot. I fell for its charms and enjoyed the city, lake and the mountains – who said you can’t have it all?

I was an hour late arriving in Lucerne from my last stop. No, it wasn’t a Swiss train running late, it was me, at the last stop huffing and puffing up stairs with my big, fat suitcase and as I hit the platform the train silently glided out of the station – damn, I was five seconds late – and Swiss trains wait for no man or woman.
Arriving in Lucerne at midday in the middle of the week threw me into the energy of a city dressed to kill and glorying in an Indian summer. Along the shore of inlets and quays of Lake Lucerne, office workers sunned themselves, ladies lunched, dogs walked and wagged and travelling backpackers drifted, dazed by this overwhelmingly attractive city, with a range of mountains as its backdrop.
There’s a lightness of spirit here, nothing too heavy or formal, and the late summer displayed flowers in every receptacle. I trundled my way across the famous, beautifully preserved (constructed in the 14th century) Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) and pondered at how well it accommodated the 21st century foot traffic, and continued to display – to the world and its elements, the original 17th century paintings that illustrate scenes of Swiss life including the resume’s of a few of the city’s patron saints Leodegar and Mauritius.
I’d crossed the bridge and walked towards one of the most elegant hotels I had seen – gleaming in the midday sun, the hotel and I became as one when I entered the foyer. Happy days in my beautiful room at Hotel Des Balances, a chic, boutique hotel in the heart of the traffic-free old town.
Out and about to tackle Lucerne by foot. It’s not a vast city, and small enough to get the gist of the layers of history that unfolds as you criss-cross from one side of the water to the other. Between coffee, cake, ice cream, lunch and cool drink stops, I explored what’s there:
The wondrous Culture and Convention Centre, famed for its amazing acoustics. The architecture is bold and there’s a vast, sweeping platform veranda roof jutting out over the front of the building sheltering the walkways and cafes. There’s a huge pool of water in front of the building. When the building opened, the architect, Jean Nouvel refused to add a railing around the pool as it ‘would spoil the aesthetics’. On the opening night’s gala event a woman stepped back and fell in the pool – it was the architect’s mother. There are now glass walls.
The old town still rings of its mediaeval past, and with its intact towers, walls, bridges and old houses there’s a sense of solidarity among the newcomers to the city – those trendy 17th century upstarts.
There are magnificent edifices and monuments, such as the Jesuit Church and the Lion Monument, which Mark Twain described as the ‘the most mournful and moving piece of rock in the world’.
On the lake is where you can find all of what Switzerland is: lakes, mountains, the city, villages, spas, mountain peak activities, lakeside beaches, restaurants in town and by the sea (lake), nature walks, ski fields, and an unspoilt rugged landscape.



Golden round trip
I catch the ferry from Lucerne along the lake to Alpnachstad and for the thrill of the day head for the world’s steepest cogwheel railway - it’s fantastic, you are pulled up almost vertically through the clouds and then the sun shines as we alight after seeing the entire mountain experience of Heidi. Ticking off 2132m above sea level, it’s time for a cuppa, on the Pilatus Kulm peak. Looking around at 73 mountain peaks within photographing distance I enjoy pure mountain air and – the strains of an oompah band at the restored hotel on top of the world.
Saturated with sun and a-grade ozone, I headed for the next mode of transport. The aerial cableway opened its doors and we began the gentle swoop into the nothingness of a cheeky cloud that wouldn’t budge. Left it behind and enjoyed seeing Lake Lucerne and its shoreline perimeters; graded mountain sides; eagles diving and a winding go-cart track going down the mountain that looked like a lot of fun.
The airborne finale was the trip in a gondola to Kriens, where I ambled through the suburbs, and caught number 1 bus back to Lucerne – a 15 minute trip, with enough daylight left to enjoy a cool drink on the balcony of Hotel des Balances, overlooking the lake and city.
If you only go to one Swiss city, make it Lucerne. It’s  Switzerland – the city, the lake, the mountains.


Getting there:
Visit: www.balances.ch (hotel); www.lakelucerne.ch (lake cruise); www.pilatus.ch (mountain trip); www.luzer.com (tourism office); www.st_aus@switzerland.com



Sunday, January 20, 2013

Getting high in Switzerland



For thrill seekers and for those with steely nerves try this - a walk on Switzerland’s new Mount Titlis Cliff Walk – billed as Europe’s highest suspension bridge and most-certainly one of the world’s scariest.
Stretching almost 100m over a vast drop between two points of the Swiss Alps and at 3000m above sea level, the bridge offers views across the Alps, and on a clear day into Italy. 
With a steel-mesh deck just 90cm wide and reinforced wire-mesh sides 2m high to prevent any possibility of visitors falling off, the Cliff Walk took five months to build at a cost of AU$1.53m.
And while it sways as visitors walk across it at any time, it can truly rock ‘n' roll when swept by 200kmh gales, making it as a spokeswoman said, "the highest-adrenaline new adventure in Switzerland.
"But as well as winter gales it’s strong enough to carry up to 500 tonnes of snow and ice – something that’s highly unlikely as it will be regularly ‘groomed’ during the winter months.”
(David Ellis reporting for Get Up & Go) 
See Switzerland link -  Visit:

                                                      

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

CRUISING - Proud Mary






Sailing on the Queen Mary 2 is an insight into the past glories of ocean cruising. Bev Malzard was all at sea.

There is something about Mary, she’s a big-boned gal, fills a wide space of water, slices through the ocean and cuts huge waves like butter. Her royal standing gives her the credentials to take her place among the finest Cunard ships at sea. Queen Mary 2 is the ship that has brought back the art of elegant ocean voyaging.

In a world that sees its shipping lanes getting more and more crowded with a variety of bigger and bigger cruising ships carrying more passengers than ever, QM2 is a standout – for size, service, and itineraries and because of its moniker– it’s got form!

I’m not the world’s most experienced ‘cruiser’ but I’ve had my share of ocean-going cruises and have always ‘quite’ enjoyed them but this time enjoying a short trip on the royal personage I was blown out of the water – so to speak.

Leaving Port Melbourne, onlookers lined the shore and packed two long finger wharves – they lent a sense of old-world pageantry that smacked of the days when it was rare to see a leisure ship departing the harbour – especially a ship this size. Passengers gathered at various deck levels at the bow of the ship (call it an ocean liner, not a cruise ship), the Calypso band played some ABBA tunes, a group of four sat in the hot tub while a couple of thousand of their fellow passengers looked on - and we departed the port in high spirits and a sense of eager entitlement.

Once onboard her royal highness QM2, I took off on an exploration walk and was charmed by the memorabilia of past voyages, past guests and their dogs (the QM2 still carries pets onboard and provides dog walkers), movie stars and heiresses, which were in black and white, framed and neatly placed next to each other along a nostalgic promenade walk.

There are 2600 passengers onboard – some have been sailing since Southampton and look as if they have settled in for life, while the ‘newbies’ who had just circumnavigated Australia were definitely in holiday mode: ‘theatre, lessons, lectures, the pub, spa, what’s next?’ The people I spoke to told me of their obsession to cruise – they named the ships, the routes around the world they had taken and the season they sailed – and all were proud as punch to be part of the QM2’s sail to Australia.

The QM2 is British to its polished boot straps. And following the British tradition of afternoon tea at 3pm, there’s a rush to get to the Queen’s Room with pianist Anatolie tinkling the ivories, and tables to be snaffled – ‘whoops, sorry Madam, this is your table? It has been for the past six weeks? Of course I’ll move.’

Ribbon sandwiches are served; scones are handed around to smother with thick cream and delicious strawberry jam – washed down with a cup of golden liquid – nothing like a good cup of tea from a pot!

There are more than 1000 deckchairs onboard, so take your seats and rest after the sugar hit!

Back to walking and a visit to the magnificent library – apparently the largest afloat, this splendid room is a joy. No maritime history for me – I go directly to the Agatha Christie section...

Cruising brings out the ‘strange’ in me and instead of sticking to a cruising ‘script’ I decided to have a haircut onboard – why not, I had the time. And talking to the hairdresser, you get to know all the gossip on the ship . . .

Dinner at the QM2’s signature restaurant, Todd English, and the menu has guests’ tummies aflutter as they line up for the degustation tonight. Dish after dish appearing and introduced by an Italian charmer – this is worth every kilo gained.

Last morning at breakfast is in the main dining room for all to gather – the Britannia Room; at two levels it’s all go for passengers and wait staff feeding the gang before disembarkation in Sydney. The food is good, aside from coffee served at Sir Samuel’s bar - the coffee is as bad here as any ship in any port in any country. But, picky, picky me. If that’s all I have to complain about then well and good. I have just spent 48 hours on one of the grandest ships that sails the seven seas, have been fed, watered, entertained and educated to a world of elegant sailing. I’m in the modern world of the big liners – the one with the Cunard red funnels.

Cruising today can be a minefield but find the right ship in the right fleet and you’ll continue to cruise until you drop or the cash runs out. • 

(Images above: The QM2 ad the QM2 Grand Lobby)
Visit:
www.cunardline.com.au



Monday, January 14, 2013

Summer reading at its travelling best!

The new issue of Get Up & Go has hit the stands and the streets and will be in your letterbox soon. With the mighty talking heads of Easter Island on the cover - you're in for a treat. For inspiration or some relaxing armchair reading Get Up & Go has got the goods.
We feature:
Glenn A. Baker talking travel; Cruising including, Alaska, Vietnam and Fiji; Asia - Cambodia,India, China plus a list of what's hot in the world and where to travel in 2013.
Europe stars Turkey, Spain, Austria, Switzerland and Scotland. We venture to Easter Island for a look at them mysterious rock stars.
In Australia we drive the Legendary Pacific Coast; look back at our goldmining past, head to Western Australia's Kimberley and travel by bike and horseback on one holiday.
The competition is still running for the amazing European river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam worth more than $19,000 - be in it to win it. Happy reading - and travelling.www.getupandgo.net.au

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Get Up & Go

Get Up & Go

see www.getupandgomagazine.blogspot.com for a posting on Vienna

My Imperial Affair with Vienna

This isn't as lurid as it sounds - but I have had an ongoing affair with Austria for many years now. I first visited as a backpacker in the early 80s and really only saw Salzburg but was smitten by the country of Austria and captivated with the little city and its history. Later I began the journey in Austria with Vienna as my base.
Vienna is a city I never tire of - it has something different to unveil to me every time I turn up unexpectedly or on a long-term invite.
I love to see my favourite nooks and crannies - and many of the nooks are where I can enjoy the cakes and pastries . . .and with a stroll around St Stephens and I am at home again.
My last visit was in June - a perfect month with perfect weather. My birthday happened to fall a day or so after I arrived and as it is an Imperial city I managed an Imperial birthday - it was a right royal indulgence in the Art of Enjoyment. My hosts treated me like the Archduke's next best friend. The birthday began with a trip to the Kuntstkammer (Chamber of Art and Wonders) which will open late February after being closed for almost 10 years - wondrous!

Lunch was held at Hollman Salon, a designer restaurant (www.hollmann-salon.at) which is quite minimalist with staff wearing old-style waitress uniforms which are quite fetching. I was presented with a divine box of chocolates as a gift.
From there we had the privilege of meeting a stunning woman Petra Bacher, the mastermind of the extravagantly decorated Sartori Torten. The amazing pieces of art look like sculptures but taste like cake. Each Satori Torten is individually made and designed and tailor-made. Petra has worked with Viennese museums to create themed tortes for their exhinitions. The lovely Petra presented me with a large Sacher Torte in honour of my birthday.

That evening it was a night at the opera to see Tosca at the Vienna State Opera. After the tragic and torrid opera Tosca we had been invited to go where no man/or woman had been before - we had the most fabulous experience of walking around - outside - the imperial rooftop of the Kunsthistorisches Museum by night. A different perspective of the city indeed. Once back under the eaves and tucked into the roof we were served Goulash soup and - another Sacher Torte. Now if you can beat that for an Imperial Birthday - tell me how.
When you are treated in Vienna - there is no holding back of the bold and the beautiful . . .ah Vienna.
www.austria.info/au
Image at top by Kim Grant - outside the museum; above Petra Bacher and some of her inspired sweet creations; and the roof of the Kunthistorisches.