Year Abroad: Lugano

Towards the end of my year abroad, my friend Angela’s mother came to visit and we decided to make a long day trip to Lugano, which is a long way from our home in Neuchâtel. I didn’t write a blog at the time so I don’t have a record of many of the details but bless getting kicked off the block wifi, I made a scrapbook page.

So I know that we went on July 5th 2006 and we changed trains at Olten and Luzern, travelled 2nd class (we usually did but Angela’s mother RaNae had a 1st class rail pass so Jemma and I might have joined them in there – but we didn’t) and with our demi-tariffs, it cost us CHF84 return. That’s £67 / $82 in today’s money.

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What I remember is that it seemed to take forever. I’m guessing we left fairly early, between 7 and 8am and it’s a journey of about four hours, so we’d have got there around lunchtime or late morning. I remember drinking a bottle of chocolate milk on the train and I remember it having an unhappy effect on me.

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Jemma and Angela on the platform at, presumably, Lugano.

Since it was around lunchtime, I think we went for pizza. This was Italian Switzerland, this was the land of pizza and pasta rather than fondue and rosti. There is no photographic evidence of this but it would have been around lunchtime by then, I have a dim memory of it and Angela took a photo of a pizza place. Maybe she just took it because it was pretty.

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We went down to the waterfront and went on a boat trip on the lake. It’s more spectacular than our own beloved Lake Neuchâtel, surrounded by towering, lumpy mountains and towns that are more Italian-flavoured than Swiss. It was hot – the rest of my year, it had not been noted for its high temperatures but then, Ticino is a very different part of the country. I don’t imagine that at twenty, I was in the habit of carrying sun cream and I imagine that Jemma and I both ended up with a touch of sunburn.

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After the boat trip, we took a local train to Caslano – a trip of half an hour apparently. Lugano itself sits at the top of a peninsula sticking out into the Lake Lugano, turning into a multi-armed starfish of a lake. Caslano is on the west side of the western arm and apparently the rail route goes via the airport. We were going to Alprose’s Schoko Land.

I assume this was Angela or RaNae’s idea because I had no idea it existed. I didn’t know Alprose existed. I’ve always thought we went to the chocolate factory but Schoko Land is more of a museum, with a few chocolate-making exhibits and a sampling right at the beginning before you’re unleashed into the factory shop at the end.

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The next thing I actually really remember is telling RaNae that in Europe, often the trains are electric and they get their power from a live rail rather than overhead wires – it made her scared of the level crossing at Caslano, although there’s no live rail at crossings because no one wants to fry pedestrians, particularly not in a country as safe and careful as Switzerland.

The next photos I have are of Jemma on the train on the way back to Neuchâtel so I can only assume that once we reached Lugano, we decided enough was enough. We bought our return ticket from Caslano to Lugano at 4.55pm so it would have been 5.30pm by the time we got back – even if we left immediately, it would still have been pretty late getting back to Neuchâtel.

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What I do know is that this was the day France won the 2006 World Cup – Angela has a video clip of someone driving around yelling with French flags flapping from the car windows and I remember leaning out of my 7th floor window trying to work out if that was a green stripe or a blue one on the flags I could see parading through town.


Question for the comments: Have you ever been on a trip you wish you could remember better? What helps you to remember?