Wednesday, October 12, 2011


12 October 2011

We're not sure whether Vistakon will extend Greg's contract beyond December and, if it doesn't, whether we'll stay on here for awhile or reinvent ourselves somewhere else. So many decisions!

But one decision we don't have to debate is our love of traveling and we plan to squeeze in as much as we can in whatever amount of time is left for us here.

Which leads us to last weekend. Since we had only driven through Ticino, the Italian and most southern part of Switzerland, we decided it was time to pay it a visit. We chose Bellinzona because it is the terminal for transportation to the rest of Switzerland and Italy. We enjoyed our 2 1/2 hour train trip through the mountains in first class comfort and Greg was very happy not to have to drive through narrow mountain passes. We stayed in the Hotel International which was right across from the train station which in turn was right smack in the middle of the small medieval (what else?) town.

Bellinzona is very pretty but also small so a weekend visit was perfect.  The town's main claim to fame are the three castles which were built to take advantage of the site's bottleneck for caravans traveling between northern Europe and Italy: lots of loot to be made from toll booths!  The castles are - are you ready for this? - a Unesco World Heritage site!

Saturday market with Castelgrande looming in background.

View of the middle castle.

The buildings were beautifully painted and adorned with other ornamentation.

The castles and other buildings were lit up at night. This was taken from our hotel room balcony.

Sasso Corbaro is the topmost castle. We took a bus up to it but there was still some hoofing to be done to get up to the rock outcropping on which the castle sits. Gorgeous old chestnut trees have managed to grow on the rock and we saw several people, sacs in hand, gathering the generous crop of chestnuts littering the ground.

The expression "hold onto your hats" took on new meaning as we climbed up to the castle. The wind was stronger than a nor' easter in Florida. Later, the hotel desk clerk told us that Bellinzona is usually very windy, the wind being channeled down through two valleys. Fortunately, the cloudy skies held onto their rain - no umbrella would have been a match for that wind!

Casso Corbaro was well worth the visit for the view alone. It also had a wonderful exhibit of photographs and relics of the way of life in Bellinzona at the beginning of the 20th century. I was amazed at the huge loads of flax that everyone - men, women and even young children - carried on their backs down from the steep mountain slopes. They also had a display of Singer sewing machines that were specially adapted to sew brims onto hats and to sew gloves.

This one is out of order but it shows the middle and uppermost castles taken from the Castelgrande in town.

Hold onto your hat

You can see all the way to Lake Maggiore in the next valley.

A view out to the vineyards.

Looking out at the church we passed on our walk down (see below).

Left: Castelgrande, the lowest castle. Ritght: Montebello, the middle castle.

Despite the wind, we enjoyed our walk down to Montebello, the middle castle. (Well, I did - Greg kept griping about the wind and how long it was taking me as I stopped and shot pictures all the way down.)

Church in the vineyards. Ticino is the warmest part of Switzerland, with a Mediterranean climate, so you see palm trees.

walking down to the middle castle

Great sense of priorities! "Hey guys, somebody might attack the castle. Let's make sure we have a wine press on hand!"

Inner fortifications - these guys were seriously paranoid!

looking at the castle in town

On the left is a seat with a hole in it set in the wall. Yup, it's the toilet!

More walking - this time down into town.

Lovely plants on a stone wall.

We stopped for lunch and then carried on to the final castle. The oldest and largest castle, Castelgrande is built on a huge outcropping of rock and the city grew up around it. We had to take an elevator to get to the top!

Castelgrande. The door at the end of the street leads to the elevator to the top. Can you imagine attacking this castle?

Looking up at Montebello and Sasso Corbaro.


Where were my Canadian Cousins? Check out the circle of new trucks!

Two valleys funneling into this one - no wonder it's windy!

For whom the bells toll ... they toll for me!

Elevator up ... walk down.

Our Friday night meal was just so-so but Saturday's meal at Osteria Mistral was one of the best meals we've ever eaten. The owner suggested we try the "Surprise Menu" which we did, choosing the four course option. It began with an "amuse bouche" (a pre appetizer not counting as one of the four courses). I'm sorry I didn't get a picture of it because it was the highlight of the meal: a zucchini blossom with a pinkie finger sized zucchini attached, the blossom stuffed with a very fine cheese polenta. The next courses are shown below.

Pumpkin soup with a scoop of pear sherbert in the middle. Sounds weird but it was delicious!

Fish from Lake Maggiore with a frothy beet sauce.

Braised beef you could cut with a fork with a wild mushroom sauce.

Poached apple filled with a creamy pudding. Mint leaf.

Sunday morning, we awoke to discover that a fine dusting of snow had covered the mountain peaks during the night. The train ride home was beautiful. I snapped a few photos but of course they didn't turn out very well.

Half of one of the first class cars had these really cool private compartments and we managed to grab one.

The pink part is the reflection of my camera in the window.

At the highest pass, the snow was right down into the village!

Lake Zug, near Zurich.

It was a wonderful weekend and it helped keep my mind off the very very wonderful thing that will happen tomorrow ...