Feeling stretched with our budget we decided to stay for just two nights in Venice, so we had to make the most of our one full day in the “City of Water” We found a great little apartment in the old Jewish Quarter which was centrally located, quiet and very atmospheric.
Blessed with low-season tourist levels and gorgeous weather, we spent the day walking the city and getting slightly lost as usual. We managed to hit some of the big tourist spots like the Rialto Bridge and the Piazza San Marco (decidedly low on the pigeon front) but the lack of tourists meant that we were able to walk right into St. Mark’s. We marveled at the millions of Byzantine mosaics that adorned the Basilica as well as the horde of oriental objects that were bought to Venice after the conquest of Constantinople.
Our budget limited us to avoiding certain indulgences, so instead of a traditional gondola ride we opted for a vaporetto trip down the Grand Canal at sunset. Although the vaporetto was crowded, it was as beautiful and romantic (well, almost) as any gondola!
November is the beginning of Venice’s “high water” time, and on the morning that we left town, the water was splashing over the sides of the canal onto the sidewalks. Everywhere we walked we saw the raised walkways ready to be called into action at the first sniff of a flood. We loved our brief moment in Venice and would definitely return one day – the architecture, the water, the decay – stunning in all its faded glory.
As we were on our way back to England there was really no way to avoid mountains, unless we followed the coast back through the South of France again. We figured that if we were going to risk life and limb by driving the camper over the Alps we might as well stay for a while!
So it was up and over the Grand St. Bernard Pass to spent five glorious days in Leysin, Switzerland. Leysin is a small village situated at 1,200 meters with fields and misty mountain views in all directions; we visited in the low season but in the winter the village comes alive with skiers.
The views from our chalet alone were just incredible, and it was so quiet that the only noise the locals complain about is the sound of the cow bells! The snows had not yet arrived so one day we hiked down a very steep and treacherous valley path to the medieval town of Aigle, stopping for a delicious picnic lunch in one of the pastures on the way. Our knees thanked us when we took the cog railway all the way back up to Leysin and thanks to Swiss efficiency the train arrived and departed bang on time.
The next day we decided to get a pre-season feel for winter sports by taking a family curling lesson at the local ice rink. At the start of the lesson we were warned in French that “Curling may not look like a dangerous sport but it is….you can easily slip on the ice and hurt yourselves really badly”. We only had one fall and a few minor bruises here and there but it was so much fun, and much harder than it looks (just staying upright on the ice was a major challenge in itself – click below to see how it should be done).
To celebrate our new found sporting talent, the curling lesson was followed by another local tradition…..our first delicious fondue at La Fromagerie.
This is Leysins’ local cheese making restaurant and as we didn’t really know how much to order and how the whole fondue thing worked it was a bit nerve racking to start with. However, once we were full of bread and melted cheese we all decided afterwards that it was just another reason to totally fall in love with Switzerland