Monthly Archives: March 2017

Rail through Switzerland

A visit to Switzerland is a visit to another world. One where fairytale-like villages and pristine scenery are the norm. A place where every frame is perfect and where every detail makes you feel like you are in a dream. This is the Swiss effect. Due to the compact size of Switzerland, you can see its stunning highlights even on a short trip. Here’s a guide on how to get the most out of your Swiss holiday.

The most efficient and convenient way to experience the country is with the Grand Train Tour using a Swiss Travel Pass. A truly spectacular tour, it combines eight of the country’s most panoramic rail journeys covering 1,280km, unveiling majestic snow-capped mountains, verdant meadows, glistening lakes and much more. Peeling yourself away from the over-height train windows as you weave your way through the country will be your greatest challenge. The longest express train ride in the world, this 7½ hour journey is a must for train lovers. Thoroughly scenic from end to end between the resort towns of Zermatt and St Moritz, the train crosses a whopping 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and ascends up to 2,033m, the highest point of the track. A large part of the journey also travels along the World Heritage Listed site of the Rhaetian Railway. To say this is one impressive train journey would be an understatement. If the luxury of time is an issue, there are four shorter sections along the journey which will give you a taste of the Alps. The Gotthard Panoramic Express links Lucerne and Lugano via a scenic steamboat ride on Lake Lucerne. Taking 17 years to construct, the journey goes through the longest train tunnel in the world stretching 57km. A route that first started its services in 1882, this engineering feat proved an immediate success. Today, 135 years later, it remains one of the most panoramic and time efficient ways to connect between the two destinations. Leading the way in ecological evolution, The Gotthard Base Tunnel is powered by hydroelectricity. As a passenger, you will no doubt enjoy the 200 bridges you cross and the seven loop tunnels you pass, but also be delighted with the ever-changing landscape.

Starting or ending in Lucerne, this picturesque city will grip you like no other with its rich history, colourful Old Town and of course, the unmistakable and iconic Chapel Bridge, one of the most photographed bridges in the world. The views around Lake Lucerne aren’t too bad either when you’re gliding along the waters in the steamboat. With your Swiss Travel Pass, exploring the city and its vicinity is easy. With the Alps as a backdrop and positioned on a picturesque lake in southern Switzerland, Lugano has a distinct Italian touch. Discover art and architecture amongst steep cobblestone streets occupied by trendy eateries and boutiques in Switzerland’s third most important financial centre.

A Ladies Packing List

Dresses

A maxi dress provides you with length if you’re visiting a site such as a church dress that requires modest dress.  It also provides some protection on windy days, and can be worn with a cardigan or jacket on those days when the weather is a little cooler. It’s a good idea to also include a dress with a longer sleeves, not just for modesty but also for protection from inclement weather.

Pants

Leggings are great for travelling as their stretchy waistband and fabric make them really comfortable, and they can be paired with virtually anything. Black is good colour to use as your base as it’s forgiving with dirt and you can easily throw on a bright t-shirt to freshen up in no time.  A pair of lightweight jeans or capri pants can add further comfort and style to your wardrobe options.  It’s a good idea to throw in a pair of shorts too, just in case.

Tops

It is advisable to pack a selection of tops with sleeves of varying length when backpacking in Europe. The longer sleeve length will keep you warmer on the cooler days and are a bit more conservative if you’re planning to visit sites where modest dress is required.  If some of the cities you are visiting are likely to be very hot, ensure that you also include a few tops that are made from a light, breathable fabric.

Outerwear

Even in the summer, you should travel with two pieces of outerwear that can be worn alone or layered for cooler weather. Remember, not all destinations are hot and sunny during this time of year and it can still be rainy and grey in places like England. A cardigan is a comfortable and appropriate item to wear alone or layered over a dress or t-shirt when you need added warmth.  A military jacket or trench coat is essential to keep you warm and dry on those cooler days, and a hoodie is great for when you are caught in an unexpected rain shower.  A leather jacket can also be a great item for travelling as it is generally waterproof, durable, and timeless.

Footwear

It is essential to have appropriate footwear when travelling in Europe: you will need shoes that are comfortable for walking for long periods, and are durable, waterproof, and stylish. Your footwear depends on your planned activities and personal preference. Recommends packing a pair of sandals that suit your personal style and colour preferences, but to ensure that they are comfortable and easy to walk in.  A comfortable walking shoe is also important, but be sure to wear them in before you head overseas.  Ensure that you also have at least one pair of shoes that are more suitable for more formal situations.

Extras and Accessories

A sun hat is essential on searing hot days to protect your face from the sun and keep you cool. Sunglasses will do the same for your eyes while an umbrella tucked in your day bag is great insurance against unexpected rain showers. Scarves are a great accessory to include in your suitcase: not only are they extremely light and compact to pack, but they also add a bit of warmth and bring color and personality to your outfit. Hair brush, mini shampoo and conditioner, makeup (a BB Cream that contains an SPF is a good way to save time in the mornings), bronzer and brush, and other cosmetics.  Rosehip oil is great for maintaining well-hydrated skin. Sample sized cleaners and face creams (ideally one that’s suitable for both day- and night-time use) are great to throw in too.

Cherry blossom season in Japan

In springtime in Japan, a phenomenon sweeps the length of the archipelago and causes a nationwide flurry of picnics, outdoor parties and general celebration: it is the season of the cherry blossom. The season is brief, lasting up to a week before time and/or weather causes the fall of the blossoms. But to the Japanese, it is a metaphor for life itself: beautiful, fragile, unpredictable and essentially fleeting. The act of appreciating and celebrating the cherry blossoms is known as hanami: here is our beginner’s guide to the aptly-named business of “looking at flowers”.

Cherry trees, and the art of appreciating them when in bloom, is not restricted to any one part of the country, but there are a few locations that we would highly recommend for an authentic hanami experience. Tokyo may be a bustling metropolis but it also has plenty of open park spaces where cherry trees number in the hundreds or even thousands. Ueno Park is a great favourite, but you can expect to share your picnicking space with large crowds. The ancient former capital of Kyoto is another scenic location, but again, you won’t be alone. If you want somewhere a little less crowded, head either north or south: the crowds will be smaller but the trees no less spectacular. The art of hanami is essentially the art of picnicking, Japanese-style. You’ll need food (such as a bento box of fresh, yummy local delicacies), something to drink (but maybe not the cherry blossom-flavoured Pepsi in favour of some good sake), a something to sit on (a picnic blanket or groundsheet is best). You’ll also need warm clothes as it can get chilly, especially at night, and if you really want to soak in authentic hanami tradition, pack a book of haiku poems too.

Ride a cable car in Funaoka Castle Park; take a soak in an onsen bath at a traditional Japanese ryokan or inn; enjoy a nighttime walk along a riverside path in Kyoto: whatever you choose, the cherry trees will form a spectacular backdrop to your hanami experience. Although there are countless websites and vast teams of meteorologists dedicated to accurately predicting each year’s festival, this is one of the busiest times to visit Japan so it’s important to plan and book well in advance. Your personal travel manager can recommend tour operators that will offer you your best chance of seeing the blossoms and joining the fun.

Top Family-Friendly Cities in Europe

Taking your children to Europe will introduce them to new cultures, cuisines, languages and histories, and make them much more aware of the world beyond their normal day-to-day existence. With so many wonderful destinations on offer, it can be tricky to narrow it down to an itinerary that works for everyone. To get you started, we’ve put together a selection of some of our favourite family-friendly cities.

  • London

London is an easy city to visit with kids because the culture is familiar, there are no language barriers to navigate, and the city is blessed with numerous green spaces that are easily accessible so the kids can go squirrel spotting when they’ve had enough of sightseeing. You could easily fill an entire day visiting the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, which sit side by side in South Kensington and just a stone’s throw from Hyde Park. Bigger kids will enjoy the gallows humour on offer at the London Dungeon, or you can really thrill them with an after-dark Jack the Ripper walking tour. Kids of all sizes (and their parents) will love Hamleys in Regent Street, which is the biggest and oldest toy store in the world.

  • Amsterdam

Your children don’t have to love science to enjoy a visit to the Science Centre NEMO, which is housed in a distinctive green copper-clad building on Amsterdam’s waterfront, but there’s a good chance that they’ll leave the five floors of hands-on science, well and truly hooked. It’s just one of many highlights that are located within the city centre, which is easy to explore on foot, by bicycle or even by boat. A visit to Anne Franke’s house will strike a poignant note with older children who are familiar with her story, whilst the smaller kids will love the Tropen Museum’s summertime rooftop beach. All that activity is bound to work up an appetite: we recommend the traditional thick-cut Dutch fries, and poffertjes, which are little clouds of pancake goodness, served dusted with icing sugar.

  • Florence

If you’re taking the kids to Italy, a visit to this beautiful city is a must. The Children’s Museum is a great way to show them what life was like under the rule of the Medicis, while the Institute and Museum of Science has kid-friendly exhibits relating to the work of Galileo Galilei. If they need to run off some steam, climb up the 414 steps of the Duomo’s campanile (bell tower), or up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. You’ll be rewarded by a fabulous view of the city, particularly at sunset. Finish your day with a gelato in the place where it originated!