InterRail Across Southern Europe - Part One.

The concept of trans-continental rail travel is not one that we are familiar with in Asia. Somehow, despite the establishment of ASEAN and other Asian blocs, we do not seem to attempt integration in other areas, apart from economies. In contrast, the EU has had a history of diversity in unity and that philosophy manifests itself in various domains of life and one of the most prominent examples is the connectivity of the rail systems that facilitates truly barrier-free travel.

What I am about to write here represents my personal opinions and preferences. I will be happy to admit that I am not a great fan of the Swiss landscapes. I suffer from 'museum fatigue', that is, the state of being tired of visiting museums. Same for churches, which are aplenty in Europe. (A quick note: if there are cathedrals that you die-die must visit, my top picks are La Sagrada Familia, the Arctic Cathedral and Ely Cathedral. Everything else pretty much pales in comparison. Haven't been to Sistine Chapel in Rome but that's for another day. Peace out.)

Switzerland:

The major cities - Zurich, Geneva and Interlaken - are not worth spending much time in. There, I said it.  In general, Switzerland is an expensive place to stay in and I would not recommend it for an extended holiday if one does not possess a rail pass. Maybe it suits the taste of the alpine landscape-lover but I did not see much that inspired true awe. Yes, the lakes are pristine and blue and clear. But how many times can one see such things before it just becomes a repetitive image?

For a true taste of Switzerland, try Sargans and Montreux. Sargans is the city at the border of Switzerland and Liechtenstein and has a beautiful castle with a restaurant that looks out into the mountains. The Heritage Trail in Sargans also makes for a nice walk in the old locality. Of course, it is also the point of departure of buses leaving for Liechtenstein and one can find some picturesque panoramas in that little state... in addition to free wine tastings and quality Vaduzer Pinot Noir at the Hofkellerei. 


View from the restaurant of Sargans Castle - perfect for a romantic date ;)


View of Vaduz, Liechtenstein's capital village


Hofkellerei (The Prince's Wine Cellars) in Liechtenstein

Montreux, on the other hand, is a city built beside a lake and can be reached via the Goldenpass Line (covered by the InterRail pass). By the lakeside, one can see sculptures, including one dedicated to Freddie Mercury, markets and the imposing Chillon Castle. It feels like a lesser version of Mediterranean France - the city is, after all, part of the French-speaking canton of Switzerland - but beautiful in its own right too.


Chillon Castle, Montreux


Venice

The city of Venice is about nine hours away from Zurich by train. It fits well into the popular idea of it being a city of canals, gondolas and whatnots. So, that's it, really. Very touristy. I would not go so far as to say that it is as expensive as Switzerland but it is almost as overrated... if not for the luscious gelato I had on Lido Island and the dipping sun that perched on the silhouette of the city that I saw on the vaporetto at dusk.


Sunset in Venice (pardon the quality; it was taken with a mobile phone camera...)

The Bridge of Sighs was very underwhelming and while San Marco Square and Rialto Bridge were nice places to visit, there was barely anything else to them, other than expensive shops and hordes of tourists. One is better off walking around to the Venetian Arsenal and the Accademia.

Venice is very safe and one can explore the alleys at 1 or 2 am and experience the tranquility of night, free of curious-eyed tourists. However, there is also an occasional sense of xenophobia in Venice with shops stating explicitly that 'everything is not made in China'. Might not bug most of the people there but it does gnaw at me...



3 comments:

  1. so true about the museum or church fatigue. Paris itself has a church at almost every corner.

    Personally I find Venice very touristy (esp around St. Mark's Square and Rialto) but architecturally stunning nonetheless.....just too crowded like that Seongsan Ilchulbong in Jeju.

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  2. Yup I agree that Venice is a wonderful place to look at architecture (and maybe even city planning). I think the best part of Venice was walking around and losing myself in the alleyways without actually being lost. There's something mysteriously exciting about that (and which I can't quite capture in photos :/)...

    ReplyDelete
  3. same same! not that I got lost but wandering around was very rewarding. Had I have the time and not have the responsibility to bringing my brother around, I would have spent a long time outside sketching.

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