Autumn Holidays 2015… Week 02 & 03…

This is part 2 of my posts about the Autumn holidays this year… if you would like to read part 1, go here.

So we had a few days in Milan in the first week and that was basically the highlight of the whole holidays. Usually we travel all over Switzerland, checking out different museums or animal parks or some other interesting place. But this autumn after the first week, we kinda took it easy and laze around a bit at home and just did stuff near home.

We visited Castle Hallwyl with some friends who are back in country after some years away. i had always been interested in seeing this castle cos it’s one of the few castles with a moat in Switzerland. When we were there, there was a special exhibition about the big fire which destroyed a fair bit of the castle.

We wanted to join the group tour but was told that the lady doing it that day would be doing it in Swiss-German. So we decided not to join it but to wander around on our own cos it would be hard for us to follow along, especially for our friend’s kids who don’t have the language. However, we did get English audio guides which were great.

The castle has several different parts; a front castle, a rear castle, a tower (prison at one time), a barn etc. It had also undergone reconstructions at various times in its 800-year history. The rooms all show different aspects of its history and the story of the family who owns the castle, as well as life in general, medicine and entertainment during those days.

Top Left: Tobias working hard to shape a cannon ball, Top Right: View of the moat from the prison tower, Bottom Right: View of the Front Castle from the Rear Castle, Bottom Left: On the other side of the castle there’s a mill which had an interesting 3 wheel system, only one is left standing now.

Then my Uncle visited us. He only stayed with us for a couple of nights when he arrived and then one other night just before he left. So we only visited, quite briefly, Luzern and our town of Solothurn with him and his travel companion.

Left: The entrance to the old city walls in Luzern. Right: View of the walls from the tower.
This is the view of the city of Luzern from along the wall. That day was quite cloudy but still a lovely view.

That was pretty much Week 02 – we cleaned and tidied and did those 2 little excursions.

It was lovely to have family visiting, we haven’t had family here since my parents and brother came a number of years ago. And now we have had my Uncle at the beginning of October and then my cousin and her parents near the end of October (we only saw them at the start of their trip and at the end cos they were on their way to Italy). Now in November, my brother-in-law and his family will be here but again we will only see them for a meal cos they are on a group tour.

Week 03 saw us going for a movie, Inside Out, which we had wanted to see for a while. And having cinema vouchers definitely made the decision to go easier. It is a great movie! Loved the characters as well as the whole idea behind it.

We did some squash practice and violin practice (there’s an upcoming concert). But the major highlight for me in Week 03 is Tobias cooking his favourite, Kong Ba Bao (stewed pork belly bun), all from scratch. So proud of him! 😀

From Left to Right: Cutting up the meat, blanching the meat, the stewed meat, ready and waiting to go into the bun.
Left to Right: Tobias rolling out the dough to make the buns, the shaped buns waiting to be steamed.
The finished dish; stewed pork on one plate and the buns on another. You assemble the bun yourself so you can make it as big or as small as you want.

It was YUM! And my Uncle said it was even better than the one they had in Zürich, at a Chinese restaurant. 😉

i got the recipe from an old uni friend who has a food blog. So get the recipe here! Thanks so much, V!

This is not the first time Tobias has cooked. He cooks quite regularly at home. You can read more about what else he has cooked here and here.

Well, that’s pretty much it. Week 01 was all excitement with the Milan trip and Week 02 & 03 was a relax homey holiday.

i wonder what the Christmas hols will be like this year.

Are you planning something special for your Christmas this year? Care to share?


Autumn Holidays 2015… Week 01…

We are back at school with the second term of the new school year. Tobias is in 5th class (5th grade or P5 for those in other systems). He is back in a single year class (last year, it was a mixed 3rd and 4th together). And i think last term was a good start to the school year.

So back to school means we had holidays before that – the usual 3 weeks of Autumn holidays. i had considered doing one giant post for all 3 weeks but after sorting through the pictures i think 2 posts would be better.

This is the picture summary of Week 01 of our recent holidays.

We went to Milan for 4 days over the first week. The main aim was to visit the Expo in Milan. i had heard about it in summer and the fact that the theme was Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life really helped convinced us to go. Also, we don’t know if the Expo would ever be so near us again in the future. So we took the opportunity and went with friends who had already been there in August, which was great cos they knew all the “shortcuts” to get in faster and avoid queues and where the nice things were.


We stayed in this cute little one bedroom apartment near the Garibaldi train station. See the cute little walk up in the picture above left. And the view although not of mountains and greenery, was nice cos it had that in-the-middle-of-a-bustling-old-city feel.


Just to show you the rooms we slept in. Tobias slept on the sofa bed in the open plan living-dining-kitchen (pictured above bottom). And we had the upstairs room which was really spacious and could have had another single up there.


We had driven the 4 plus hours from our home to Milan and so didn’t feel like doing very much that evening. We had a very late lunch, shopped for some breakfast items and then headed to the Central station to have a walk around the central area of Milan. In the above photos, you see the inside of the nearest Metro station to us and the wonderful architecture of the Central station.


The next morning we were off to the Expo. We got there at 10ish and got our tickets. And because we managed to meet our friends at the train station, we were saved from joining that very long queue you see in the above-left photo and walked with them to another entrance where there was almost a very short queue. In the right photo, you see the main “street” of the Expo. According to the map provided, if you just walked from one end of the main street to the other, it would take you about 40 to 45 mins! That’s without stopping. Can you imagine how big this thing is with all its branch-offs to each side of this main street?


The first thing which caught my eye as we entered the Expo grounds proper, were this Food People. They are sculptures of people who appear to be made of food items. There’s this soldier-looking food guy and behind him a fruit lady and many others. i really liked them.


On the map, they advise people to start their journey through the Expo at Pavillion Zero but our friends who had been before said it was too slow and not worth the time, mainly because we would already have seen most of it before in various other documents which we have watched before (we like watching documentaries).

So we headed straight for the Rice pavilions (i don’t have good photos cos the country pavilions in this area were very small and crowded). Then it was off to the Chocolate area – my favourite food!! (Pictures above, clockwise from top left) You could get a chocolate moustache or a choco-kebab. Unfortunately, the chocolate fountain was only for show. But you can take a rest on little chocolate blocks (plastic) outside the Italian Chocolate Pavillion.


One of the highlights for me was this photo exhibition in the Arid Zones. It featured amazing photos of these desert areas and breath-taking landscapes.


We did lots of walking around and, of course, sampled some food. But we had chosen not to queue if possible. There were queues for lots of the big country pavilions, such as Japan where the queue time is usually 2 hours! We did decide, however, to try queuing for the Qatar one, after asking someone near the entrance how long they had waited. It was a reasonable 15 minutes so we joined the rather long queue. BUT… it was longer than that for us because just as we reached the entrance (pictured above left) the “special” groups arrived and they were given priority – groups with disabled persons, small children and with special passes. But we got in eventually and i thought it was an okay display but not as impressive as some others.

We also queued for the Malaysia pavilion. Just for 10 minutes. And it was a well-organised display of the country’s various achievements in food as well as in technology. Unfortunately, it was very late in the night already and the fourth part – the cultural exhibition – was no longer opened. But out friends went on another day and managed to catch a lovely 40 minutes performance of the traditional Malay dances.

It was close to 11 pm when we got back. 12 hours of walking does give you very tired feet 😛 We saw lots of other pavilions but i can’t really show you everything and i didn’t photograph everything either.

Left: the Toti class of submarine, wholly Italian made. Right: a special exhibition of painting and whimsical robots.

The next day, we decided to give the Expo a little rest and headed for the National Museum of Science and Technology, also known as the Leonardo da Vinci Museum Milan. Of course, given that name, our main intention was to see the exhibits which are re-creations of Da Vinci’s inventions. And it does not disappoint. Not only did it not disappoint, it was so fascinating that i didn’t take many photos at all, being so engrossed by the various exhibits.

It was not just the da Vinci stuff but everything else too. This museum is BIG! And very hands-on, great for kids. Before going, i had read on their website about their i-Labs but unfortunately, on site, for some reason we couldn’t go in, then we sort of figured maybe it’s just for organised groups, cos we saw a group of school kids going into one of the labs. But we won’t have had time either.

There were so very many sections! From history to space, communication to music, recycling to steel production and transport, OMG! We were lost, all 6 of us, just walking room to room and discovering even more rooms with even more wonderful things to “play” with. It says on their website FAQ that it would take roughly 3 hours to go through the whole museum. i would recommend you reserve an entire day!

There isn’t a proper cafe within the museum but your ticket allows you to go out, have lunch down the street and come back. Which we did. In total, we spent almost 5 hours and still didn’t see everything. i would definitely go back again. Especially since the museum has plans to re-do the da Vinci exhibits along a historical timeline.


We decided that we really should go back to the Expo and since they offered an evening ticket for just €5, so why not?

We knew there were a few pavilions we wanted to see, so with limited time, we headed for those only. We walked in and had a quick look around at a performance art exhibition by 5 artists from a certain school – the name escapes me now, but you can see one of them working in the picture above on the left. On the right is a picture of the hydroponics system in the Belgium (i think) pavilion, which we found very interesting and was probably the most on-topic pavilion we saw.


We also saw the Israel Pavillion. The picture above left shows the very cool vertical field they have outside their pavilion. And i thought the way they presented their pavilion was great because it drew the audience in through the use of a well-known (at least in Israel) personality telling a family history – Israel’s history in food production. And i learnt from them that the Israelis invented cherry tomatoes 😉

The Thailand pavilion was also quite nice (see the pretty dragon fountain outside their pavilion, pictured above right) and was another one we queued for, about 30 minutes. As you would imagine, rice is a huge part of food production for Thailand and it was interesting to see so many varieties.

Our very last stop for the night was the South Korea pavilion – it was nice and thought-provoking but i get the feeling that they designed it for people to slowly wander through and think about the questions they were asking through their exhibits. They didn’t provide the answers to sustainable food production but instead asked people to think about it. However, because there were so very many people wanting to see stuff, they had to keep the crowds moving and so kept ushering people forwards.

So ends another feet-tiring day, but it was mentally amazing! We did see other pavilions but that would be too much to post here.


On our last morning in Milan, we decided to go to the Duomo while our friends decided to go back to the Expo. That would have made it their 5th day there already and still they didn’t see everything… that Expo is HUGE!

The Duomo was amazing! It was very impressive. Just standing outside you can tell it is an amazing piece of architecture. They were also quite concerned about security (see picture above right) and checked everyone’s bags.

There are 2 types of tickets for the Duomo, one which allows you entry into everywhere and one just for the main cathedral and the museum. Since we still had a long drive ahead of us, we decided on just the cathedral and museum.


The stained glass is beautiful! And there are so many of them! In the 2 photos above, it is just 2 huge panels of many. There was a large number of people inside but everyone was quite quiet and reverent so it was good.


See those high vaulted ceilings (pictured above left). The atmosphere that gives is truly awesome, peaceful yet you get a sense of greatness. The marble flooring is also something to look at (pictured above right), all that in-laid marble. Speaking of which, the marble used for the Duomo comes from a specific region in Italy and it has a pink tinge because it contains iron in it. (Something i learnt from the earth-cache, geo-cache that is here)

My one regret was not getting the audio guide which would have given more history and information about the place and architectural elements. But it gives me a reason to go back 😉


We then went to the museum in the next building. It featured lots of religious artwork, such as tapestry and stonework and even woodwork. The top picture shows the tops of the stone pillars in the Duomo. Walter and Tobias are standing next to a sculpture of God, apparently. And the is also on display (pictured above right) the old metal skeleton of the Madonna which stands on top of the Duomo.

That was the end of our trip to Milan. i felt the trip was too short and i would definitely like to go back to Milan again.

We spent the next day lazing at home and letting our feet recover 😉

Stay tuned for Week 02 and Week 03.


2nd Week of Autumn Holidays…

So here’s the 2nd installment of our holiday adventures this Autumn. Read about the first week here.

Our little family trip to meet a couple of friends in Venice is the major highlight of that second week and that is what this whole post will be about cos there isn’t room for anything else 😉 AND… it will be in picture summary, otherwise i could go on and on and on and on…

Now sit tight and enjoy the whirlwind version of our first time in Venice:


It was a very rainy 6-hour drive into Venice. The Italian expressways actually have minimum speed limits – you have to drive at a certain speed to drive in certain lanes. i thought it would be very unsafe but actually if everyone followed the rules, it seemed to work well and kept the traffic moving quite efficiently. Oh, and the tolls… wow! When you drive on Italian highways, be prepared to pay and it helps to have coins. And watch that you get into the right lane when passing through the toll gates – they have specific ones for those with passes and those without and those needing to pay cash.

We finally get there and park on the parking island – no cars allowed on the actual islands of Venice. You can find out more about getting to Venice here.

We catch the very little train (sort of like an LRT for my Singaporean readers and like a small tram for my Swiss readers) into the main bus station on Venice. Buses only go up to that point and then they turn around and go back to the mainland. So our first glimpse of Venice was of the industrial area.


We found the “hotel” and discovered that it was not a “hotel” or even a bed and breakfast – it was a very enterprising Indian man (he is quite nice) renting out rooms in different apartments which he owned. The room was nice and big and comfortable so no complains there. i only wished the insides of the cupboards were a bit more dust free. We shared a toilet/shower which was clean and nice, and to my surprise we didn’t meet with much time conflict with regards to it’s usage with other renters.

The view from our small balcony was of the rooftops of Venice, which i found very interesting and i could imagine people of ages past running across them to get away from whatever or whoever they may have offended – oh, intrigue!


We got settled and decided to wander the streets and find some dinner. Walking is the thing to do in Venice. The other option is the Vaporetto – water buses. Our advice is to wear good comfortable walking shoes and buy the Travel Cards so you can hop on and off these water buses anytime you want to.

Of course, we crossed many canals and bridges and i LOVED all the different types of bridges, wooden ones, bricks ones, ones with iron railings etc…

We settled for a family-run Trattoria, the grandmother did the cooking – it was simple fare but yummy! And didn’t break the bank.

i have read that eating out in Venice can be expensive and unsatisfying – we have found that while there are the expensive Ristorantes, there are also other options such as a simple Pizzeria or a small cafe which can serve decent food at a fairly reasonable rate. Oh, do note that in Italian there is such a thing as a cover charge and a service charge. Most places have one or the other, BUT some have both, which can make the final bill high.

See the above picture of the casino with it’s very own jetty – those are the places where people don’t even think about how much the bill would be… they arrive in Venice and get driven around in private boats! We saw a lot of Chinese tourists in private taxis.

Here are the sights of the Grand Canal as we took the water bus to San Marco’s Square. i so enjoyed being on the sea again! It was interesting watching the Gondolas navigating around the faster boats and watching some Gondoliers in training.


This is the very famous San Marco Square – there are loads of pigeons everywhere and even a geniue “bird-lady” – she reminds me of the one in Mary Poppins who sang the song “Feed the Birds”. It was also nice to sit at one of the cafes (yes it was a bit pricey) and enjoy the live music. We concluded that the different bands must coordinated with each other so they don’t play at the same time cos the music does carry across the square.


We visited the Doge’s Palace and oh my, what opulence! There was an interesting clock in one of the rooms where a part of the adminstration met; the clock only have one hand. We couldn’t figure out how it works. The armory was also quite interesting.


This is the view from the Bridge of Sighs – it was a prisoner’s last view of the outside world. The bottom picture (in the above collage) is taken from the outside, looking at the Bridge of Sighs.

We walked through the prisons and noticed there were lots of different types of cells, some with wooden beds, some are small rooms and others are just huge empty rooms with nothing but rock walls and floor. The ticket into the Doge’s Palace also gives you entry into 3 other museums at the Square. But we didn’t do the rest cos there was a bomb scare that day and they closed those museums. i do believe our tickets were valid for another few months but i can’t confirm that.


i thought the water-bus-stops are very interesting. And i’m constantly amazed at how the buildings are really built right up and into the water itself. The above are views of San Marco Square and the area around it from the water-bus.


We visited Lido – the only island which has a beach – which i thought was strange for a group of islands. But we didn’t get to it cos it was a long walk from where the water-bus stops you and at the time we went, all the shops were closed. It seems that between 12noon and 3 or 4pm, the store-owners all decided to hit to beach – hehheee 😉 Anyhow, we abandoned the walk to the beach cos we really didn’t know how far away it was. i only found out that we actually made it halfway when we were on our way back.


The other interesting thing to do in Venice is to wander through all the narrow alleyways and find little glimpses of everyday life. We wandered upon a Montessori pre-school one time. And another time, we saw a whole group of little children on their way to school – they gathered along a canal-way and seemed to waiting for what Tobias called their ‘School-boat’ to take them to school. See the left picture above, see the Hebrew words, that’s the start of the Jewish Quarter or better known as the Ghetto.


i concluded that people come to Venice to see the charm of a city that is sinking and crumbling. Everywhere the walls are peeling and you can see water damage on doors and wooden beams holding buildings up. It must be difficult to keep up with repairs with the sea water eroding away everything and as you can imagine, fixing a floating city isn’t an easy task.


We also visited another famous site – the Rio Alto Bridge. It is full of people trying to get the classic shot of Venice. The bridge also houses some interesting shops, all very touristy of cos. But quite interesting to browse through.


One of the amazing things we found in our wanderings is in the above picture – see the camera and various tools – guess what they are made of… they are made of chocolate! And the shop smelled so amazingly delicious! i can still smell it… i don’t believe i could eat such beautiful creations.


And speaking of creations, the lovely island of Murano houses all the glass-makers of Venice. And they make wonderful things. There is also a Glass Museum – unfortunately it was under renovation and most of it was closed when we were there.


Tobias was so taken with their work, he stood and watched for a long time. He even bought a handmade glass unicorn with his pocket money. There is no need to pay to watch these men at work. You just need to walk the island and there will be a few open doors where you can just watch. Don’t follow anyone who says he will guide you to the best one. Those usually come with hard-sell sales pitches.


We also visited Burano – this island is known for it’s lace work and its very colourful houses. Aren’t they pretty? Not a lace person myself, i didn’t really shop around.


But we did find a tiny little shop where the owner is a glass-maker (certified Murano glass-maker) – he makes the cutest glass food and prettiest bracelets etc… Tobias spent so long watching him, he decided to have a photo taken with Tobias, who was, of cos, thrilled!


Oh, last but not least, we had the most yummy Gelato ever! Our friend had found the recommendation off the web and we set off, wandering through the many narrow walkways and streets of Venice to find it. And it was well worth the long walk and the extra 0.50Euros! Here’s the address: Salizzada San Lio, Castello, 5727, Venezia, Italy – YUM!

2ndweekautumnhols20141026tNow i leave you with more classic shots of Venice! Ah… i miss those waterways already – we’ll be back Venice, we’ll be back 😉