1 Feb 2016

The beautiful art of paper-cutting in Switzerland

What is your favourite activity while travelling?

Sampling local cuisine?
Sitting at a cafe & people-watching?

As fun as all of these are (and I am particularly partial to #3!), another great way to experience a place is through its local arts and crafts. And if you get a chance to actually try your hand at it, there's nothing better. 

On a recent trip to Switzerland, when I was travelling through the picturesque region of Gstaad (that playground of the rich and the famous), I visited Lauenen. A quintessential Swiss village, with a sprinkling of pretty chalets, a village church, some cafes and restaurants, and miles of emerald green fields, with contented cows grazing in them - Lauenen is a visual treat! 

Most houses, hotels and restaurants in Lauenen, and indeed in Gstaad, display delicate artworks made out of paper. I learnt about paper-cutting or Scherenschnitte while sitting in a cafe and chatting with Anita Raaflaub, one of the artisans in the village. But this wasn't just a theoretical lesson; soon I was snipping away at a paper design. 

Read on...

11 Jan 2016

What to See & Do in Bern, Switzerland

Continuing with the Switzerland series, next stop Bern. I spent a day in the city, and managed to cover a lot of ground - the historic city centre is small, and I opted for a free walking tour of the city. 

Since I was staying overnight in Bern, I left my main suitcase at the station's left luggage facility (12 CHF!! - make sure you have exact change in coins). 

I had booked an Airbnb apartment in the Mattequartier (see below), which was to be available only in the evening, so I had to trudge around on the walk with a slightly heavy backpack and camera. 

I'd highly recommend this walking tour of Bern - it's free, just look up online and choose one of the two tours available, and show up at the meeting point. I 'walked' with Nora and had a great time exploring the city. Read on to find out what to see and do in Bern, Switzerland.  

“What is the capital of Switzerland?” asks Nora, our guide for the day. I’m in Bern and about to embark upon a walking tour of the city, with a motley group of travellers from different countries. “Zurich” says a bright-eyed American, while someone else says Geneva. I mumble “Bern”, and Nora turns to me & says “Right and wrong!” Technically Switzerland has no capital, as the country is a confederation (Confoederatio Helvetica in Latin, hence the abbreviation CH) or a federal state. However, most of the government institutions (including the parliament) are located in Bern and it’s by default the de facto capital.

4 Jan 2016

What to do in Zurich if you have 48 hours

Hello, 2016! In the first post of the New Year, take a walk around Zurich, Switzerland's largest city. And there’s more to it than its staid banking image. From its historical Old Town to the modern and grungy West neighbourhood, experience the fun side of Zurich. 

Image courtesy Zürich Tourismus - Bruno Macor
Here's what you can do in 48 hours in Zurich.

27 Dec 2015

5 Travel Experiences you must try in 2016

2015 is coming to a close and what a year it has been for travel! It took me to Europe several times (hello, multiple Schengen visas) - Ireland, England, Switzerland, Denmark and Spain - and to Thailand, Hong Kong and Macau (not to mention a day-trip to Shenzhen in China). 

Countless hotel beds, a lot of gluttony, couple of press trip horrors, new friends, new adventures...

If you're planning your 2016 trips, here are 5 travel experiences you must try next year. Listed in no particular order...

Sail a Viking ship on a Danish fjord

At the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark, you can see restored Viking ships excavated from the bottom of the fjord in 1962. Despite spending nearly a thousand years underwater, the ships are remarkably well preserved, and give a peek into the world of the Vikings - those legendary Norse seafarers. 

7 Dec 2015

Florence across the Arno - Why you must visit Oltrarno

In the last of the Italy series (for the time being), let me take you across the Arno, to the Florence that doesn't always find a mention in the guidebooks. 

Beautiful Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance, is a mandatory stop for anyone travelling to Italy. And its treasures are well-documented - the Uffizzi's masterpieces, David in his full monty marble glory, the Cathedral's red tiled duomo, Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria, the Ponte Vecchio and more... 

If you look up these places on the map, you will notice that they are all located in one closely-knit part of Florence, on the north bank of the river Arno that cuts through the city. 

Florence is always heaving with tourists, whether you visit in summer or in autumn, and it's difficult to escape the crowds in the historic city centre. But cross one of the bridges across the river, and step over to Oltrarno (literally, the other side of the Arno), and you will find a different sort of Florence. A word of advice - avoid the crowded Ponte Vecchio; instead take the elegant Ponte Santa Trinita (the oldest elliptic arch bridge in the world, pictured below).

Here's why you should cross over the river and explore Oltrarno.