Category Archives: travel

Around the Alps – Lago di Como, St. Moritz & Salzburg

It seems to me that when organizers from the travel agency were planning the itinerary of this trip around the Alps they decided to take us places that gradually will get better and better. At least that’s the way I feel because the less days there were left until we’d go back to Poland, the more I liked the places we visited. Maybe it’s because we were getting closer to the mountains?

On Saturday (day 8) our tour bus took us to the Lake Como. First thing in the morning was a visit to Como itself. We continued a slow stroll along the lake as our guide continued to tell us the story of the city and the region in general. At some point we passed a park and a small square and entered a labyrinth of small streets. Those took us to a historic centre in Como, where a great basilic was reigning over the surroundings. But the buildings around were just as charming. These old-fashioned houses, their facades – each in a different color, wooden shutters framing the windows – it was a very Italian scenery that also made me feel like home. In the free time I visited the cathedral inside to have a look at all the paintings, frescos and sculptures. It was also when I had the best ice cream during the entire trip. At Pasticceria Tolini I bought a portion of white chocolate ice cream and oh my goodness. This ice cream was so creamy, velvety and full of great flavor. From Como we drove to Cernobbio – but that was just so that we could get on our boat ride to continue the day.

This time the ferry took us on a longer cruise. We were going to Bellagio but at first we moved in the opposite direction. Once we’ve seen some of the coast line, our water ride turned back and started to move in the actual direction where Bellagio is. The closer we were to this popular resort the bigger and more exclusive the villas located on the hills by the lake were getting. We finally arrived at the pier and all the memories returned alive. As you might remember I visited Bellagio on my own a few years back. The city still is exactly as I’ve remembered it. We started sightseeing of the city by going to the Northmost part of it. There’s a headland from where you can see how all 3 ‘arms’ of the lake intersect. Afterwards we checked out Chiesa di San Giorgio and during the free time I just strolled down the familiar streets. Together with few other people we wandered to the other side of the ‘peninsula’ where wany yachts were berthed, waiting for the next sail adventure. Eventually hunger started to remind of itself and I managed to score a generous piece of pizza melanzana (with eggplant). It was very tasty and satisfied my stomach. Hours passed really quickly and it was time to go back. Our next hotel was in Chiavenna, closer to the Swiss border. We arrived there relatively early in the afternoon and while some people preferred to relax, others went for a walk. Chiavenna turned out to have a slightly medieval mood and due to ongoing festival of wine almost everyone around had a pouch with a wine glass handing around their neck in a pouch.

Saturday was the last day of our trip but to me it was the day I was most looking forward to. After an early breakfast we travelled to Switzerland, to St. Moritz more precisely, so that we could ride on a train through the Alps. We took a special train called Bernina Express, from St. Moritz to Chur. It’s special because this train has panoramid windows that partly cover the carriage ceiling. There are also special mini-carriages with electronically opened windows. These allowed to take fantastic pictures without a glass between camera lense and photographed object. And no light reflecting in the window surface. Pictures turned out very clear, revealing lush green fields and meadows with such a juicy and intensive shade of green I have never seen before. The grass contasted with brown-grey mountains and their snow-covered tops. Almost every photo could be an official postcard from the Alps. And our express was red which looked great on the pictures. Our journey through the Swiss Alps took approximately 2 hours. It was a wonderful experience but I know I want to explore the Alps more, ideally from a closer distance. Upon our arrival in Chur, our bus was already waiting for us. It was the time to go back home. All good things come to an end.

Through Liechtenstein (with a mini break in Vaduz) every hour was getting us closer to Poland. Our road home was mostly in Austria and around 8 PM there was a one final surprise waiting for us. We arrived in Salzburg where we were taken for an evening walk around the city. Our guide was a Polish woman living there for 20 years and the way she talked about the history and people of the city was really engaging, it was a pleasure to listen. That weekend was also a celebration of St. Rupert, patron of Salzburg. According to our guide the squares that we walked through normally are empty but for this occassion they were brimming with nightlife and were filled with beer, streetfood stands. We’ve seen a house where Mozart was born and a house where his family lived later. We didn’t have a chance to try (too late) so we were salivating looking at Mozartkugel (Mozart ball) pralines in the sweets shop windows. The city was quite picturesque and I think that the light of all the lanterns made it particularly pretty. This walk took us around 2 hours and as far as I remember it was 10:30 PM when we were leaving. We spend the rest of the night on the bus, trying to sleep and find a more comfortable position. It was 7 AM on Monday when our bus made it back to Woszczyce.

Just like on the day of our departure, we had to wait for other trips to arrive. Once all 10 buses gathered together (isn’t it crazy that 9 other holiday trips ended on the same day?) we were assigned to different vehicles depending on the cities we were returning to. It was time to say goodbye to all the people I befriended during those 10 days. We exchanged emails to send each other some of the photos and parted our ways. Who knows, we might meet again on one of these trips again, someday. I was back home for dinner and I spent the rest of the week relaxing at home. And so my holidays came to an end and I returned to work on September 30.

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Around the Alps – Courmayeur, Aosta & Lago Maggiore

Days spent on sightseeing were passing really quickly and we didn’t even notice that we were already halfway through our trip. Thursday was probably one of the most exciting days in our Italian-Alpine itinerary. I think everyone was at least a bit excited about the mountains.

In the morning we travelled to Courmayeur, and Italian village with a French-sounding name where we stayed just for a little while so that everyone could accomodate to a slightly higher altitude. We then jumped on the bus for a few more minutes after which we arrived at the bottom station of the funicular railway going up in the high Alps. We had a few hours to explore the beauty of the mountains on our own and we had 2 terraces to visit, both placed at quite different altitudes. With two other girls from the group we decided to go all the way up and start there and to descent to the lower terrace later during the day. We boarded a round-shaped funicular carriage with panoramic windows. As it was ascending it was also making a slow spin so that everyone could have a view from a different angle. Many people decided to check out the mid-height first but we changed the cart and went even higher. It was interesting because at some point we were going through a layer of clouds that completely blocked our vision. But then we were at such a high altitute that the world became bright again and we were above the clouds! Isn’t that crazy and exciting? They were constantly moving and sometimes it was hard to take a good picture but I tried my best.

When the clouds were not in our way the views were simply breathtaking. Mountain tops of various shapes and sizes – some were more pointy, others were rounded, most of them covered with white caps of snow. The building of the top station also featured a museum of minerals as well as a cafe & restaurant. Not to mention that there were more funicular railways that could take hikers even further to other parts of the Alps, like Chamonix in France. Having a chance to see Mont Blanc from this close really made the biggest impression on me that day. The highest viewing terrace that was available for tourists is called Punta Helbronner and is placed at 3466 meters. Considering that the highest mountain in Polish Tatras, Rysy, has 2503 meters I can easily say that Punta Helbronner is the greatest altitude my feet have ever been. The weather was pretty dynamic up there so warm clothes and a good softshell jacket were a must if you didn’t want to feel cold. From our guide and from the comments left on a travel agency website by people who participated in this trip before us, we knew there’s also a possibility to access the glacier. So we took a special elevator going down into mountain depths and then we passed through an underground tunnel. At this slightly lower height there was a building where hikers were getting ready for their trip. We even met a group from Poland. We tried to find our way around but it was more difficult than we though.

In the end we just found an information board telling that you can access the glacier through here and that you’re doing it at your own risk. There was no path really – you had to step across the fence and proceed. So we did and carefully proceeded few meters further just to be able to touch the snow. We took a couple of photos and went back. Afterwards we proceeded to descent to the lower station. We were below the clouds again and the weather seemed much better there but the views were not so spectacular, yet still very beautiful. At this level we could also get outside of the station and walk around a bit. There was even a special alpine garden arranged there that featured many species of plants native to the mountaineous hills of the Alps. After spending some time there our time was running up and we decided to return to the starting point. It really was a great experience and I highly recommend going to Punta Helbronner to anyone visiting this part of Italy. Once the group gathered again in the bus we were once more on the road for this wasn’t the end of sightseeing for the day. For those who were interested there was an additional trip to Aosta organized. It was highly recommended by many so I decided to join as well.

Aosta was much warmer compared to the earlier part of the day and t-shirt was just enough to feel comfortable. Next to Arco di Augusto we met our local city guide who first took us to the church of Sant’Orso. The church was built many centuries ago and apparently when it collapsed (during war I think) a new church was built on top of the ruins. Today after many years of excavations it is possible to go underground and see the remains of the old walls in a relatively good condition. They were simply hiding underneath the rebuilt church. We then passed through Porta Pretoria, an old town gate once also equipped with a moat. Just past it, on the right there’s a Teatro Romano – Roman theatre, its well-preserved ruins actually. We were lucky as a Week of Culture was going on when we visited and we could enter few more museums/venues free of charge. Next we visited Cathedrale di Aosta and some old building parts found underground – Criptoportico Forense. After those visits we had some free time to take more photos, grab something to eat or do some shopping. With much excitement and a handful of beautiful views and interesting places the day came to an end.

On Friday we were visiting Lago Maggiore, one of the biggest Italian lakes of which a part is actually located on a territory of Switzerland. It took us around an hour from the hotel until we were able to see the lake. We drove to Stresa, a rather luxurious resort town by the lake, with multiple 5-stars hotels. Upon the arrival of our tour guide we were welcomed onboard of a ferry (or water taxi) that after a short ride delivered us at Isola Bella, the biggest of a group of islands known as Boromee. The name Bella derives from Isabella – wife of count Carlo III. Beautiful palace that was finished in 17th century still serves as a summer residence of living descendants from Boromee family. Presence of any of them is indicated by a red flag above the palace. Out of 4 floors the visitors are able to visit 1st floor which serves as a museum, showing wealth of architecture, art and furnishing. After having a castle tour (which lasted approximately 1 hour) we had some time to visit the gardens that surround the palace. And oh boy, I must tell you that I’ve never seen a garden this beautiful. It was arranged with a lot of taste and featured rare species of citrus plants, palms or bamboo. There were also 4 (maybe more) white peacocks wandering around – they treated tourists as if they didn’t exist. After finishing the sightseeing of Isola Bella we were on a ferry again.

This time it took us for a longer ride across the lake and the captain made more or less a full circle around these islands so that we can see them from different sides. Eventually we landed at Isola Pescatori, a Fisherman Island. It was so tiny that you needed less than 10 minutes to walk from one end to the opposite one. We visited Chiesa di San Vittore and then we had some time for ourselves. In the afternoon we returned to Stresa where we also had some time off before departure. I headed down the narrow street between 2 hotels to arrive at a little square that was buzzing with people. I also found a perfumery there that was offering products from Acqua di Stresa, a brand I have seen years before in Florence, at Pitti. I tested them all just to remind myself the scents. I also used this opportunity to buy a couple of hand made soaps from this brand so that I had some gifts for friends. The weather wasn’t great on Friday. It was the first day during our adventures when the sky was fully covered with gray clouds and the temperature was moderate. It wasn’t raining at least, a great plus. We were back at the hotel and the rest of the afternoon before dinner time was just for our leisure.

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