A May 2008 trip
to Switzerland by pabrams52
Quote: Switzerland sure hit the scenery jackpot - so much beauty in one small country!
The property has an intimate feel to it, as if you’re being invited into someone’s country home, and the welcome they extend upon your arrival immediately conveys their appreciation of your business. The check in was efficient and professional. Due to the size and age of the château, the building does not have an elevator - there being only 3 stories. But the staff is more than willing to assist with luggage.
We were in a lovely room on the third floor, accessed by an old-fashioned spiral staircase. The room was cozy and very comfortable while providing all the necessary amenities (large closet, plenty of hangers, minibar, in-room safe, fresh fruit on arrival, plush towels, standard bathroom toiletries and bidet). The owners also pride themselves on their in-house fine dining restaurant. Because it is not open on Monday & Tuesdays, we were not able to utilize it, but the owners were more than kind to make a reservation for us at a nearby restaurant of the same caliber, Sommerlust. We enjoyed a delightful and delicious mid-evening meal there with excellent service. Sommerlust is easy walking distance from Fischerzunft Hotel.
Another charming feature of this hotel is that there are seating areas outside the rooms for public use which feel like you are retiring to your own sitting or reading room. On the second floor, is a nicely stocked library with table and comfortable chairs…if you had trouble sleeping you could always retire to this inviting area to relax or do work without disturbing your spouse. In the morning, the Fischerzunft Hotel offers a lovely breakfast buffet that is included with the room. A nice spread of breads, cereals, fruits and cold meats are beautifully arranged in their lobby-level breakfast room.
Treat yourself to the luxury of this fine getaway…you won’t want to leave!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 27, 2008
+41 (52) 632-0505
The Hotel ABC in Chur (pronounced KOOR), Switzerland is as convenient a stop for which a traveler could ever hope. It is situated only paces (perhaps ½ block) from the train station. Even while pulling luggage, it is a very easy walk. I became aware of this hotel somewhat by accident. I had planned on reserving at a full-service property in the area but discovered that many of the resort hotels in this region are closed between the winter (ski) season and the summer (tourist) season. I was directed to Hotel ABC as a "next choice". One is always a little uncertain when one doesn’t have the range of choices at their disposal, but in this case, I can positively say that Hotel ABC was a pleasant surprise with no disappointments!
This hotel provides all the basic necessities but with no frills. It is immaculately maintained and one of its best features is the spotless, modern bath/shower combination in the rooms. I find that European (and particularly Swiss) tubs tend to be deeper and longer than in the U.S. They also include a portable showerhead for stand up showering with great water pressure. That is always a welcome feature for the tired traveler. The rooms have ample space with a work desk, chairs, and plenty of storage for longer stays. There is internet available in the hotel’s lobby though we had already purchased time through the Swisscom site while on the train. That way, it can be used at stations and in transit.
The lovely town of Chur is easily navigable on foot and offers everything you need…restaurants, cafes, shopping and history. Nestled between the Alpine passes to the south and the Bodensee to the North, it is exceedingly picturesque. Approaching Chur by rail, one cannot help but notice the remaining snow on the mountain tops. Waterfalls cascading down the mountainsides provide additional beauty. If you are considering a stop in Chur, either as a connection or an extended visit, you can’t go wrong on price and convenience at this well-run hotel.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 28, 2008
Lauterbrunnen is part of the central area of Switzerland, referred to as the Bernese Oberland, which is marked by some of the country’s most magnificent mountain ranges. I chose Lauterbrunnen as a base because there you will find classic Swiss alpine scenery. The Lauterbrunnen Valley is the world’s deepest U-shaped valley and the region claims 72 small to spectacular waterfalls. Lauterbrunnen is nestled in the perfect location to make it both an end destination in itself as well as a commuting point to other midland areas (Műrren and Wengen). This region is jam-packed with natural beauty and it took no time at all to fall in love with it. Visitors immediately relax upon arriving.
Lauterbrunnen is accessed by train via Interlaken. My husband and I connected in Visp, where we had disembarked from the Glacier Express, which we had boarded in Chur*. But the Swiss rail system is so comprehensive that you can link to this region from nearly anywhere in the country. Upon getting off the train, you will feel as if you’ve just been transported to some magical land. You’ll look up and catch your first glimpse of the famous waterfall plummeting to the ground from the mountaintop above. Being a very small town, most everything in Lauterbrunnen is walking distance – the main town can be covered on foot, from end to end, in 15 minutes. We proceeded on foot to our hotel (there are no taxis as the town is too small to warrant them) while pulling our suitcases up a slight hill, with relative ease. Our reservation was at the oldest existing hotel in Lauterbrunnen, Hotel Staubbach. This hotel is rated consistently with high marks and deservedly so. Their staff is friendly and welcoming. The establishment does not offer the services of a four-star big city property, but does offer the basics in a very comfortable chalet-like setting. Anyone seeking to book a large room with mini bar and room service should not stay in this area. Most hotels in the valley do not cater to that level of clientele. They do an excellent job though of offering the basic comforts to those that want to soak up the scenery and take advantage of the visual beauty and sports that this region offers. The Mittelland is famous for its base-jumping and paragliding. Don’t be surprised to look up and see parachutes floating in the sky – it is one of the area’s big attractions. If jumping off a cliff or being swept up by a wind isn’t your thing, that will not preclude your enjoyment of the 24/7 natural beauty that resides here. Hiking and sight-seeing via cogwheel trains and cable cars is the next best thing to conquer the heights around you.
But the main attraction are the many mountain trains to summits which will melt your fillings. The Jungfraujoch, made up of the Eiger (13,025 ft.), the Mönch (13,488 ft.) and the Jungfrau (13,642 ft.), constitute one of the most spectacular mountain ranges you’ll find anywhere in the world and it has been dubbed "The Top of Europe" for good reason. The views are breathtaking and the time spent riding to the top via cogwheel train is well worth it. Lower viewpoints located in Műrren (2,625 ft.) and Schilthorn (9,747 ft.) can be accessed by cable car in the village of Stechelberg. My husband and I took a leisurely one hour walk through the Lauterbrunnen Valley to Stechelberg on a beautiful, clear morning. Enjoy the slow pace, and commune with the cows, goats and fauna on your way. You will actually feel yourself decompress. This is what Lauterbrunnen is all about!
*Switzerland offers many panoramic trains routes of which the Glacier Express is just one. It originates in St. Moritz in the east, for its westbound passage to Zermatt, but can be ridden either direction. Riders can hop on or off at points in between. The entire length of the scenic ride takes approximately 8 hours end-to-end.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 29, 2008
Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland 3822
+41 (33) 855 54 54
As readers of my journals know, I’m very much a subscriber to that special but unpredictable moment called serendipity. It can’t be anticipated, but when it does occur, it should be savored. Such was my good fortune when my husband and I were searching out a place to have dinner our first night in Lausanne. We had read the recommendation of a particular restaurant in our guidebook, and it sounded very appealing. We followed the guidebook’s map, but only managed to walk in circles. (As many tourists will affirm, walking the historic sections of some European cities can be disorienting, as they are not laid out in a grid pattern) After several hardy attempts without success, I was tempted to throw in the towel and call it "a day" and admit that perhaps fate was working against us. I suggested we just take our chances and settle for whatever we came across. But my husband, sensing that I really wanted to go to THAT particular restaurant, took up the challenge and was not ready to give in. He stopped one of the locals and asked for help. She courteously pointed us in another direction. I felt as if we were on a wild goose chase, but we agreed to see this last effort through. When we got to our destination, I was elated…feeling as if I’d just discovered gold.
The proprietor/chef was preparing to open for dinner. Admittedly, we had arrived a bit early, but he graciously invited us in to have a glass of wine while his staff finished their setup. We relished that glass of delicious local white wine as we patted ourselves on the back for our perseverance. It was only a matter of about a half hour when the waiter came back to take our order. We’d had a chance to look over the menu and gave him our selections. I chose a simple omelet with herbs accompanied by a mixed salad. My husband had grilled shrimp. By this time, we’d made friendly conversation with both our waiter as well as the chef and were beginning to feel very much at home.
A meal never tasted so good. We weren’t sure what happened that evening…karma or fate, but it definitely fell under that elusive category of serendipity and we enjoyed every moment. All the right elements seemed to come together…finding the restaurant, meeting the chef, friendly banter with our waiter, their sense of hospitality and the delicious food made for a memorable experience. We departed after our meal sensing that we’d had one of those special moments on the road – unique moments that seem to only happen when the "vacation fairy" waves her magic wand.
It would be repeated two nights later when we returned and attempted to recapture that same enjoyment. This time, the hour was later, the restaurant was full and we had the opportunity of seeing the restaurant in full swing. The buzz was delightful and once again, we enjoyed a superb meal. We were due to leave Lausanne the next day and felt a little sad having to say goodbye to our newfound discovery and friends we’d made at Café du Grütli. But we took the memories with us and those will last a lifetime.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 31, 2008
You can read any number of descriptions of The Rheinfall in books or travel guides, but they can never do it justice. It has to be seen firsthand to be appreciated. It also has to be viewed from different angles and perspectives to comprehend the size and power of this magnificent natural wonder. Though not particularly high (only 75 feet), it spans a width of 492 feet. The falls are situated in Neuhausen, which lies 3 miles downriver from the town of Schaffhausen. My husband and I stayed in Schaffhausen, so access was relatively easy.
The falls can best be viewed from a number of different angles on the south side, near Schloss Laufen, a Renaissance castle. A bridge which connects the north and south sides spans the Rhine River and offers a pedestrian crossing and views of the water as it gathers speed and surges towards its destination. As one tourist advised us, make sure you take the stairs on the south side all the way down. You will be lead to a balcony ledge which is as close to the falls as you can get…you will feel the power and certainly the spray, as the enormous volume of water plummets over the edge.
Board Bus #1, across the street from Schaffhausen’s Haupbahnhof, for an easy 10 minute ride to the falls.The fare is 2.50 CHF per person, each way.Look for the nearly ever-present rainbow which is created by the sun reflecting off the falls’ mist.Also, there is considerable climbing on inclined hillsides as well as staircases. Make sure you wear sturdy shoes and are in shape. On a very warm day, it could be a bit much for some people.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 30, 2008
As is my custom in a new city, I try to seek out a cultural event to my liking. In preparation for my first visit to Zurich, I perused the arts offerings online and discovered that one of my favorite operas, Rigoletto, would be performed at Zurich’s Opernhaus during my stay. It was my first time ever to this cosmopolitan city and the banking capital of Europe.
Now that I had my opera reservation secured, I sought a hotel that would be both within my budget as well as near the opera house. This was a challenge, as most everything in Zurich is "off the charts" price-wise. One has to approach this city with the knowledge that it will cost you, to varying degrees, and to make prudent decisions on where to spend your money. I was fortunate that the day I arrived was a Sunday and the Monday following happened to be Pfingsten (45 days after Easter Sunday), so for the most part, the city was closed down for major business and strolling the parks and along the riverbank was the main activity. The locals were taking in the nice spring weather and flocked to the Limmat River to catch the sun, picnic and relax. The Zürichhorn, located at the southern end of Bellerivestrasse, is the city’s largest green park.
I settled on the Steigenberger Hotel, located on Utoquai, just two blocks south of the opera house. This modern hotel is in a perfect location, accessible to the No. 4 tram which runs north toward the city’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station). It is also a comfortable walking distance from the city’s famous shopping avenue, Bahnhofstrasse. The accommodations were modern in design and meticulously maintained, offering plenty of closet and storage space, mini bar, shower/tub combination and complimentary fresh fruit on arrival. The hotel offers several packages for use of their WiFi connections based either on continuous use or timed use. The traveler can pick which plan works best for his schedule. The front desk personnel at the Steigenberger were all friendly and helpful – assisting me with dinner reservations the first night of my stay. They directed me to the southern end of the park where Zurich’s famous Fischstube is located. It offers freshly caught, excellent seafood on a lakeside patio setting, for delightful summer dining. The quai along the river is lined with beautiful trees and shrubs full of bursting white blossoms.
Now, back to the opera…Zurich’s opera house is not grand on the scale of other European cities (Paris, Vienna, Berlin), but is a beautiful and intimate setting, attracting world-class programs of ballet and opera. The Opernhaus was constructed in 1891 by Viennese architects Hermann Helmer and Ferdinand Fellner. The performance I attended was of superior calibre, featuring world-renowned singers Leo Nucci and Elena Mosuc. After the opera, I dined with my husband at the restaurant next door to the opera house, Bel Canto, where we enjoyed a delicious after theatre meal. But the best part of our visit was, who should walk into the restaurant just after we placed our order? None other than the lead soprano, Ms. Mosuc! She was greeted by all in the restaurant (including ourselves) with a round of applause. She situated herself at a table close to ours where she conducted a mini press conference with reporters – answering questions and granting photos. It was an enchanting evening and one that made my short visit to Zurich very, very special.
Luzern was the last stop on my trip to Switzerland and ended up being a perfect city in which to conclude our tour of this beautiful country. My husband and I had been lucky so far with the weather, but at this time of year, spring can be fickle and conditions can change quickly, which they did on May 17th. Because we wanted to see Mount Rigi, and spend a day traveling to and hiking that area, I stopped at the Tourist Information center located at Luzern’s train station. And, what an incredible train station it is, too. I’ll get back to this later.
I had not made a practice of utilizing the Tourist Centers in Europe, but realized its value to check out the conditions before taking the cogwheel train up the mountains. It was wise of us to talk to them - they discouraged us from purchasing a ticket due to weather conditions. This was most helpful, as it saved us from utilizing a travel day on our Swiss Rail FlexiPass. Heavy cloud cover was expected to move in and envelope the region, and had we gone up, we wouldn’t have been able to see a thing. The agent was even kind enough to check alternate areas of Switzerland to which we might take a day trip (e.g. Lugano and areas near the Italian border), but said that the weather there was no better. Though discouraged, we greatly appreciated her advice and reconciled ourselves to staying in Luzern. The agent recommended some lake boat trips that we could take advantage of. Even though the weather wasn’t due to be sunny and warm, we still could travel in the immediate area. We decided on a two hour round-trip boat ride to Küssnacht.
I know, you’re wondering when I’m going to get to the "Swans, Ducks & Charm". After we checked into our hotel, Hotel Waldstätterhof (which is conveniently located across the street from the train station), we headed out to see the city. Since the 19th century, Luzern has been a favorite of tourists, and understandable so. The Alstadt (Old Town) has retained its beauty and charm along the Reuss River. This lovely strolling promenade is where you will find inviting eateries on the riverbanks and many happy swans and ducks in the water. It’s a popular gathering spot where tourists marvel at the Chapel Bridge, the oldest wooden bridge in Europe (dating from the 14th century). Even though part of it was damaged in 1993 by fire, it was lovingly restored and remains a symbol of Luzern to this day. This city is a very comfortable walking city where you can roam the sidestreets and browse endlessly in the storefronts.
One of the wonderful aspects to traveling in Europe is that many of the train stations serve not only as a transport location for travelers, but also as very inviting shopping malls. Train stations tend to be public meeting spaces where locals congregate along with arriving & departing passengers to shop for a variety of goods (bakeries, food stores, restaurants, electronics, liquor stores, etc.). I only wish that the bakeries in the U.S. were as attractive and as appealing as those I encountered in Switzerland’s train terminals.
Matter of fact, I came to rely on a convenience offered in the Swiss train terminals which was well worth the small fee required. For 2 CHF (Swiss franc), one can always depend on finding safe and sanitary bathrooms there as well. We encountered a chain called McClean at which for 2 CHF (Swiss Francs) you can utilize their facilities with confidence. Actually, this is not particular to Switzerland, many of Europe’s train stations also have similar facilities for the traveling public – many offering more elaborate facilities with showers and private locker rooms.
Don’t miss one of Luzern’s most interesting attractions: The Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument), depicts a dying lion, pierced by a spear. This massive sculpture was carved into the sandstone cliff by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorwaldsen, and was unveiled in 1821. The monument honors the memory of the Swiss Guards, who served and protected Louis XVI of France. These guards defended the Palais des Tuileries in Paris during the French Revolution and those that were not killed in that storming by revolutionaries were later guillotined. It is well worth the visit and is only a short walk up Lowenstrasse.
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