Lyon

On our way to Lyon from Geneva we found ourselves asking… why are we going to Lyon? We’d had the impulse to add it to our itinerary so long ago that we’d forgotten why.

Lyon is the second biggest city in France and we knew almost nothing about it. Food seemed to be the main notable thing, according to the blogs posts I’d read and the YouTube clips we’d watched, although we were a bit hesitant about the bouchons, restaurants that served the local traditional fare – fare that used every part of the animal. Tripe, liver and all that sort of thing featured heavily but fortunately there were other things to choose from.

First we checked into our hotel, a Best Western that gave us a tiny room but it was air conditioned (thank god – Lyon was our hottest destination yet at 37 degrees each day) and the location was perfect. Just across the river from the old town and around the corner from many galleries and restaurants. Although, to be fair, if you’re in Lyon you’re near restaurants. The city has more per capital than any other city in France… maybe in Europe.

Our first impression of Lyon was very good. It is a vibrant city where things are in good repair and, despite the heat, we were keen to get out and see it so we took a walk to Les Halles for a look around the food counters then lunch – a croque monsieur (the best we were to have during our stay) and some French wine. A very nice waiter gave us some advice on what to see in the city.

On our first full day we used a Lyon Pass. €25 for 24 hours and it included all museums, galleries and public transport. Here’s what we chose to do.

1. A ride on a city explorer train-car thing.

Like a bunch of little carriages towed along by a little train thing. To be honest, I think they look stupid and probably annoy the locals but it was included in the pass so we took it. The commentary wasn’t great, the volume was too low but it wasn’t a bad way to spend 40 minutes while we waited for the fine art gallery to open. Also we got to see the largest mural in Lyon.

The city of Lyon commissions huge trompe-l’œil murals and they are fantastic. Unfortunately they’re pretty spread out so we only saw a few but they’re really worth seeing. I couldn’t find a map online so here’s a photo of one if you happen to go to Lyon and want to find them.

Here’s my favourite – the theme was books!

2. The fine art museum.

It’s on a plaza that has a terrific fountain. There are many terrific fountains in Lyon but in this one fine mist comes out of the horses’ noses and they look very fierce.

The museum has a pretty impressive collection that spans over 2000 years. My favourite of all was this one. A painting of a photography session is a pretty unusual subject and even though photography had a huge effect on realism, this painter captures a lively and detailed scene, which the photographer probably did not.

We didn’t look at everything because I can’t handle looking at a thousand paintings in one day plus we didn’t have time.

3. Confluence Museum.

Next we headed down to the southern end of the central peninsula to see the new Museum of Confluences. We didn’t really know what to expect, we had just read that it was an interesting building.

Which it was. Turns out it’s a science and natural history museum. Good displays and a surprising number of Australian Aboriginal artifacts. They were part of every single room and probably second in number only to French artifacts. If anyone knows why this is please leave a comment because we found it a bit odd.

4. Next we took a bus then a metro train to the Old Town to visit the Miniature and Cinema Museum. It was a bit of a strange one. Everything in it had been collected by a man who made miniature scenes but the majority of the collection was Hollywood memorabilia and every item was original and had been used in films.

Lighting from The Fifth Element, probably my favourite item.

There were whole scenes from Perfume in the basement, then costumes, models, puppets and animatronic creations. Some very old and some very new.

5. One of the last things we did was catch a funicular up to the church at the top of the hill behind the city. The funicular ran through a tunnel, which was a bit of a disappointment but the view over the city from the church was very good.

By this point I wasn’t feeling great and I’d also noticed a few people with dogs in the Old Town and they’d had tight muzzles on their dog’s mouths in the extreme heat. Dogs can’t cool themselves if they can’t pant and some looked quite distressed. I couldn’t say anything to these people because I didn’t speak French and this, combined with being tired and hot, really upset me. I’d had enough and even though Luke could’ve done more we ended up going back to the hotel for a rest.

In the evening we tried to fit in a river cruise but the boat wouldn’t go with less than 20 passengers and so we missed out. We took a walk through the old town and had dinner at a charming restaurant that was totally over the top in terms of decor but did lovely food and had a great waitress who spoke excellent English.

We didn’t end up going out for dinner until about nine pm and didn’t finish until eleven. Finally we are getting used to these late dining hours!

At many places in France a two or three course meal is offered for a set price so we had an entree, main and dessert but none were too big or heavy and it was very nice to sit over dinner for a couple of hours, especially in an air conditioned room.

Next: more Lyon and then we arrive in Nice.

Last Day In Lauterbrunnen.

We had left ourselves a free day in Lauterbrunnen to see things in the area that caught our eye. First up was a Swiss culture festival that was being held up a nearby mountain.

We caught the usual assortment of trains and cable cars and arrived at Männlichen on a bright and sunny morning.

It turns out that there’s nothing but a hotel, playground and viewing point at the top, plus a herd of cows with bells to make it all one hundred percent Swiss. You could hear everyone stepping out of the cable car station making ‘oooh’ noises because the scene was just so pretty.

Wildflowers everywhere, snow-capped mountains all around and Grindelwald visible down the valley in the distance. We took some photos and had a wander then made our way to the hotel, where all kind of Swiss things were happening on the deck.

Alpenhorn!

Whip cracking demonstration. I don’t know if it’s actually easy or he was just really good at it.

We watched for a while and took some photos but it was all pretty similar to the music we’d seen in the last two days so we headed to our next activity, a cog-wheel train to Schynnige Platt. Even though this train had been on the map as an activity, it had looked pretty short and so we expected it to go to a low plateau where the Alpine Botanical Garden was reputed to be.

It turned out to be probably the most scenic ride we took in our whole time there! The sides of the little train were open, which meant it was much better for taking photos and videos (no reflection) and it took about forty minutes to get to the top.

There was not a whole lot there but we had a quick look at the Alpine Garden and then sat and had some lunch at the hotel. It was a perfect day with amazing visibility and pleasantly cool at that altitude.

If you go up Schynige Platt go to the top level of the hotel restaurant.

We had thought about trying to make it to Trümmelbach Falls afterwards but ran out of time so Luke visited them the next morning before we left while I packed my bag.

View from the Schynige Platt railway

We were very sad to leave the Bernese Oberland. By far our favorite place that we’d visited so far and it had raised a very high (unfairly high, some would say) bar for Geneva to reach. I don’t often go to countries and think that I would happily move there but Switzerland makes the list. One day we’ll come back and see it in a different season and visit more of its cities. One day!

Postcard perfect Switzerland

View through the cable car station window.

Here Comes The Planet 72 – Krka National Park (2018)

Feeling like a miniature Plitivice Lakes, Krka National Park has one additional benefit, which is that it allows swimming! The water was too cold for me, but certainly not for the scores of tourists and locals who come here to cool off in the summer months. We were happy enough just wandering the paths, looking at the lakes and falls. 🙂

Click here to read Amanda’s entry about this part of our trip!

Here Comes The Planet 71 – Plitvice Lakes National Park (2018)

If you like waterfalls, you’ve come to the right place! Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia is one of the top places to visit for any waterfall lover, and I’m sure you’ll see why. Lush surroundings abound, with plentiful falls of every size plunging in to lakes of turquoise water. The trails around the park are very well kept – and well trodden! All in all, one of our favourite spots in Croatia. 🙂

Click here to read Amanda’s entry about this part of our trip!

Switzerland: A Trip To Jungfraujoch

One of the biggest tourist draws in this region is the complex at the saddle of the Jungfrau (young girl) and Monsch (monk) mountains. The buildings are reached by train from Kleine Scheidigg, a village high up in the Bernese Oberland. Another train is required from Lauterbrunnen to get to Kleine Scheidegg.

We rose at 6:15 to catch the first train, which left Lauterbrunnen at 7:07.

The train was almost full and it was the first one of the day! Mostly families and older people – I dare say not many young adults want to shell out the 200+ Swiss Francs that it costs to get here. With our Bernese Oberland Pass we rode free to Kleine Scheidegg and then 99CHF for the last section. Even at half price that’s 134 AUD. Steep in every sense of the word.

The train from Lauterbrunnen to Kleine Scheidegg was extremely scenic with little Swiss cottages and cows dotting the alpine scenery.

There was a bit of a mad rush to change trains and then the second section of the journey was almost entirely through a tunnel.

There is one stop before the top where viewing windows have been cut out and you can get off and look at the view for five minutes.

The Jungfraujoch station is underground and from there you can enjoy a range of thrilling attractions including a huge snow globe.

This sits in a tunnel lit with edelweiss flowers.

Weird but cute. There’s also some wooden statues in this long hall.

Then a ramp with a moving walkway that takes you past historical scenes and tributes to the workers who died during the construction of the tunnel. The whole thing was the brainchild of a Swiss millionaire who made his money on trains and wanted to achieve a great engineering feat.

There is a snow-carving gallery within the Aletsch glacier. It’s not very big but it is cute.

There are also several restaurants on different levels. We went to the cheapest and got hot chocolate in a paper cup for $10. Crikey!

The main reason for going to Jungfraujoch is undoubtedly the view so we’d been crossing our fingers all week as storms had been predicted and so far we’d only seen one shower.

Fortunately our luck held and the views were spectacular.

We’d taken warm clothes but I wish we’d had gloves. Still, we survived without and enjoyed ourselves. There is a section where you can walk out on the snow and even go for a hike but we weren’t prepared for that.

The viewing platform sits at 3571 metres above sea level, the highest either of us has ever been while still standing on the ground. Luke had a few moments of lightheadedness and I felt a little tingle in my legs but otherwise we were fine.

Last stop was a look through the world’s highest Lindt store. As we still have piles of chocolate from the class we did there was no need to buy anything.

We only stayed for an hour and a half but it was a spectacular 90 minutes and we were glad we went.

Back down to Kleine Scheidegg where we hopped aboard a train to Grindelwald, a town Rick Steves describes as tiny but which has grown hugely since he first visited.

The cog-wheel journey to Grindelwald is stunning.

The town of Grindelwald sits, as Lauterbrunnen does, in the shadow of large peaks, in this case the Eiger.

We hadn’t eaten much so we wandered up the main street to find some lunch. Everything looked expensive but we settled on a restaurant that did a cheap (ish) sandwich for 7CHF. But what sandwiches!

Also Luke kindly let me eat all his pickled onions and gherkins. What a gentleman!

Tired of hauling backpacks full of clothes around, we decided to head back to Lauterbrunnen and ended up having a nap, but not before seeing a noticeboard advertisement for some traditional folk entertainment at the local campsite. That was our evening sorted!

We wandered down to the campsite at about 6pm, keen to get a seat at the campsite restaurant as it had excellent reviews online.

We both ordered the small size of our chosen dishes.

Mac and cheese with potatoes, ham and a side of apple sauce.

We could’ve both survived off Luke’s plate for days.

We walked around the campsite for half an hour to aid our digestion and to ensure we didn’t fall into some sort of food coma, then it was time to grab a seat for the evening’s entertainment.

I assume this is the instrument you’re given in Swiss music classes if you can play anything else. Or maybe a punishment?

The choir sounded like the music from the Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. One of our favourites!

All in all an outstanding day – hopefully the weather holds for our trip up Schilthorn tomorrow!

Using Hotel Swimming Pools in Sorrento

We really wanted the use of a pool while we were in Sorrento, but were staying in an Airbnb rather than a hotel. I figured there would probably be some hotels where you could pay to use their pool, so I did a bit of research online. Most of the information came from scattered TripAdvisor posts. Since I couldn’t find one definitive source regarding the use of swimming pools in Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast, I thought I’d compile my research for others.

After doing my online research, I went and enquired at four hotels in Sorrento which have swimming pools, and three of them allowed non-guests to pay to use the pool. The only one which didn’t was the Grand Hotel la Favorita. Here’s some information on the ones that do:

Hotel Central

We only had enough time in Sorrento to sample one of the pools, and we ended up going with the one at Hotel Central. It cost €10 each to get in, and was open until 7pm – unfortunately I neglected to check what time it opened, but I suspect it was 9am.

Hotel Central had a medium sized pool with a good number of lounges in both shade and sun, with a solarium off to the side. The pool was quite warm when we visited – absolutely lovely temperature. The bar on site has a happy hour, reasonably priced cocktails, and chair service. If we had more time we would have gone back!

The entrance is the “Central Fitness Club” just to the right of the front doors to Hotel Central, and to the left of Hotel Gardenia, which has an arrangement with Central so that their guests can use the pool as well.

Hotel Carlton International

Costs €15 per person, open from 9am to 6pm and use of the pool by non-guests is subject to availability. Also has a bar with a good range of drinks and food available.

Grand Hotel Flora

Costs €15 per person, open from 9am to 6pm and provides you with towels. We didn’t actually get to go in and see what the pool looked like or the facilities, but the Flora certainly looks like an upmarket place so I imagine they at least match the other hotels we checked. The website states it also has a pool bar.

I hope this helps other people in our position make the most of their time in Sorrento!

Pizza in Naples

Since this is a part of the trip I’ve been looking forward to, I thought I’d write my own post about the experience. I imagine quite a bit of it will be doubling up on what Amanda has already written, so apologies for that.

Although I definitely appreciate pizza more than some others, I could never call myself an aficionado. Not when I know there are people out there that obsess over all aspects of pizza making. As Amanda mentioned previously, I was a kickstarter backer of a documentary focused on Scott Weiner, of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York. Now THERE is a guy who is an aficionado. A flour company that specialises in products for pizza makers once flew him to Italy to consult on upcoming products before releasing them to market. The guys who make the pizzas say that Scott knows more about pizza than they do.

All this is to say, I’m just a guy who enjoys a good slice. (Also watch that documentary if you get a chance, it’s really fun and interesting!)

I’m not going to go too heavily in to the history of pizza (Amanda touched on it briefly), suffice it to say that Naples is the birthplace, so any pizza lover owes it to themselves to try the pizza here if they can.

They have two “traditional” pizzas in Naples:

  1. The Marinara, which is topped with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra-virgin olive oil.
  2. The Margherita, which is topped with tomato, sliced fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil.

Writes Devorah Lev-Tov on The Spruce Eats:

Neapolitan pizza, or pizza Napoletana, is a type of pizza that originated in Naples, Italy. Neapolitan pizza is prepared with simple and fresh ingredients: a basic dough, raw tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and olive oil—no fancy toppings. One of its defining characteristics is that there is often more sauce than cheese, leaving the middle of the pie wet or soggy and not conducive to being served by the slice.

Because of this, Neapolitan pizzas are generally pretty small (about 10 to 12 inches), making them closer to the size of a personal pizza. Neapolitan pizzas are cooked at very high temperatures (800 F-900 F) for no more than 90 seconds.

I like cheese too much not to go for the Margherita, so that’s what I decided to try at each pizzeria…

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…except for the very first one! The first pizzeria we went to on the evening we arrived in Naples was Pizzeria Starita, which, I’d discovered, is known for its fried-base pizza called the Montanara. Everyone said it was the thing to try, so we ordered one of those and a Margherita and ate half each.

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It was honestly hard to say which pizza was better. The Montanara had a delicious light crispy crunch to the base due to the frying, and the sauce was wonderfully balanced against the cheese to make a sweet and tangy topping. I noticed the base wasn’t as heavily charred as it might have been, so the bitter smoky taste only came through around the edges of the crust. Contrast that against the Margherita, which was an explosion of rich, tangy tomato which complemented the more smoky dough. Both pizzas were exceptionally good! It was entirely possible we had just had the best pizzas of our lives…

The next day we went on a food-focused walking tour around Naples. Amongst other things, we tried one Margherita pizza from Antica Pizza Fritta da Esterina Sorbillo.

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Overall I wasn’t super impressed. It certainly lacked the wallop of flavour of the pizzas from Starita. I’ve heard that Sorbillo is supposed to be quite good, so I’m not sure why we got something substandard. I think there’s three separate eateries all named Sorbillo, one of which is the really famous one you hear heaps about, and another which is the bit we were in. I suspect that if you went to the proper one during the “queue for an hour to get one slice” time rather than when we were there for our food tour, it might be quite different. They did, however, have a pizza (more like a calzone really) that was deep fried and filled with ricotta, buffalo mozzarella, provolone and ham. That was super good!

Our breakfast pizza the next day was from Antica Pizzeria e Friggitoria Di Matteo in the old district. One small Margherita to share between the two of us.

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This was a classic Naples Margherita street pizza. Hot, cheap and served in some grease paper folded in to quarters. The ingredients were runny but not too soupy, and there wasn’t too much or too little of either sauce or cheese. There was evenly spaced charring across the base. There was the telltale tang of the sweet regional tomatoes mixed with the salty mozzarella. In a word, for a hit-and-run Naples street pizza, it was perfect. As you can see the ingredients had slipped due to being held sideways while we were walking, but you can eat the pizza sideways so as to mash everything together anyway. It certainly didn’t detract from the taste!

That evening we went out to dinner with some friends who also happened to be in Naples. We went to Pizzeria Trianon da Ciro as they had a good range of pizzas and had a large amount of seating, which made it good for a group. Again I ordered a Margherita, although this time I decided to try one with additional olive oil.

The extra oil didn’t make that much of a difference for me, so I probably won’t order that again, but the pizza certainly tasted good. Not as good as Starita, not even as good as the street pizza from Di Matteo, but it was certainly tasty. And huge! So much bigger than all the pizzas we’d had so far.

As we neared the end of our time in Naples, I’d only have time to fit a few more places in. So I chose Antica Pizzeria Di Michele for the next day’s first pizza. This is the pizzeria made famous (apparently?) in the movie “Eat Pray Love” but it was certainly very popular before then.

After we worked out that we had to go and collect a ticket from the doorman to secure our place in the queue, we waited for a table. Considering the amount of people there were, and how few spaces there are, it was surprisingly quick.

Di Michele only has two pizzas on their menu – the Marinara and the Margherita – and a very small selection of drinks. You’re there for the pizza, not a dining experience. The time we were seated to the time we walked out the door was less than thirty minutes. And at least half of that time was spent eating super delicious pizza.

Here was where our research bore some fruit. We could tell that the Di Michele Margheritas were very good, but we noticed some differences against the pizzas from Starita.

These were charred a bit more on the base, and either they were using different tomatoes, or the smoky flavour cut against them too much, because they didn’t have the same burst of flavour. But they were still excellent, delicious pizzas, and not even as soupy as I’d been expecting – although there’s no way I’d attempt to consume one without a knife and fork.

That night we were meeting up with another friend of ours for dinner, and because she was coming in via boat and only had a small amount of time to spare, I suggested an upmarket pizza restaurant called 50 Kalò, as it was close to the marina and I’d read that it was supposed to be good.

Although there were a great number of pizza toppings and flavours on offer, I decided to stick with the Margherita so as to make it a fair test against all the others. And despite the fact that the restaurant was clearly popular – it was teeming with people and there was a massive queue to get in by the time we left – my pizza left a lot to be desired.

I can’t even describe it to you. At the time, I remember thinking that it just tasted like… nothing. None of the flavours took centre stage, or were very bold.

If ever there was a clear marker of just how amazing pizza in Naples CAN be, this pizza, by failing to make any sort of impression, was it. I had been spoiled with amazing flavour up until this point. It was a bit of a rude shock, and a sad segue back in to non-Naples pizza.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to angle for some great slice in other parts of Italy, of course! 😉

If I had more time in Naples, I would have liked to try the pizzas from El Presidente (owned by the brother of the guy who runs Di Matteo, so I’d hope the pizzas would be of similar quality), Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba (widely regarded as the very first pizzeria in the world – although apparently the quality has gone downhill) and Pizzeria Brandi, which is the Pizzeria that (allegedly) invented the Margherita. Maybe next time?

References:

The Serious Eats Guide To Pizza In Naples

Where to Eat the Best Pizza in Naples Italy – A Naples Pizza Guide