The long-awaited family trip to Europe became a reality when my daughter graduated from a university near London recently. Planning for a free and easy holiday started two months ahead so that we could get the best deal and have sufficient preparation time. Websites such as TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet proved useful for us.
From London, we went to several cities in Rome and then from Milan we took the only daily train to Lucerne, Switzerland - a town known for its picturesque beauty that has been described as having "a storybook image of a Swiss town".
One of the major sights was the Chapel Bridge, with its interior wooden frames showcasing fascinating and macabre medieval paintings. It was sad to hear that many of the paintings were destroyed in a fire two decades ago.
Aside from the bridge, the Lion of Lucerne monument was a sight to behold. Carved from a huge wall of natural rock, there was an air of mourning and sadness etched on the lion's pained expression; truly a beautiful piece to commemorate the sacrifices of the Swiss Guards during the French Revolution.
We went on a Lunch Boat cruise and sailed around Lake Lucerne where the cool breeze was welcomed as we clicked away on our cameras and phones, capturing images of the beautiful mountains, gently rolling meadows and cliffs.
Chapel Bridge, by night, is quite magical. Photo: Ooi Lay TIn
After an idyllic few days in Lucerne, we took a train to Geneva. We wanted to check out some of the international organisations as Geneva is known as the worldwide diplomacy centre of international organisations, like the headquarters of Europe's United Nations and the Red Cross.
Seeing the spectacular Broken Chair sculpture in front of Place des Nations, it felt like we were in the land of the giants. The sculpture stands as a symbol of peace and opposition to land mines and cluster bombs.
We did not attempt to hike or ski on the nearby Rigi and Pilatus mountains or the Alps but planned instead to go on the cable car ride up Mont Saleve. Alas, when we arrived, we were disappointed to find out that the cable car service was suspended for about three weeks for maintenance.
Ironically, it would reopen only two days after we left Switzerland to head home to Malaysia.
We couldn't leave without visiting tourist hotspots such as the Jet d'Eau fountain, and the gorgeous L'horloge Fleurie, also known as the Flower Clock. Another must-see is the Reformation Wall, featuring imposing 4.5m tall statues of the four Geneva luminaries.
Food has always been a focal point for us so we just had to try out the Swiss pretzels, kebabs, Bachmann patisserie and chocolate delights. There was quite a variety of pretzels - the salted types, glazed ones, chocolate-covered ones, as well as seeds and nuts to go with the soft bagel-like bread texture.
Don't forget to check out Bachmann's array of mouth-watering hand-crafted desserts, gateaux, chocolates, pastries and croissants.
If, as Malaysians, you crave for some roast chicken after days of croissants, sandwiches and pastries, go check out the whole food section in Migros and Coop, two of Switzerland's major supermarket chains.
We bought a whole freshly roasted well-marinated chicken in the food section of Migros and for a feast, it costs only about 12 euros (S$18).
As it was winter time, the temperature was around 5 degrees C in the evenings. We reckoned it was time to do some winter shopping. Thus, we checked out some nice winter clothing on sale and found the prices to be reasonable, ranging from 40 to more than 100 euros for interesting designs and better materials.
Handy tips include buying your train tickets in advance; using the SBB ticket e-shop to get the one direct train from Milan to Lucerne. At Geneva, remember to get or ask for your travel card as tourists when in hotels or hostels.
With the Geneva transport card, you don't have to pay a penny when taking public transport like trams, buses, and trains in the Geneva territory. To get to Geneva airport, take the train from the Cornavin train station which will take you directly at the airport, at absolutely no travel cost.
Needless to say, it was a memorable family trip.
The views expressed are entirely the reader's own.