Written by pabrams52 on 31 May, 2008
Luzern - Swans, Ducks and CharmLuzern 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,…Read More
Luzern - Swans, Ducks and Charm
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.
Written by Krys T on 20 Mar, 2007
Zurich has 3 main churches in the centre, and we visited all 3 of them on our first day. First the Grossmünster. This cathedral stands in a little square at the junction of Oberdorf and Niederdorf, and faces northwest over the Limmat river. It was…Read More
Zurich has 3 main churches in the centre, and we visited all 3 of them on our first day. First the Grossmünster. This cathedral stands in a little square at the junction of Oberdorf and Niederdorf, and faces northwest over the Limmat river. It was founded in the 9th century by Charlemagne and the current church was built in the 12th century. Its distinctive two towers can be seen from all over the city.At 10am it had only just opened so we were amongst the first visitors. This was great as it meant that we could climb the 187 steps to the top of the south tower and enjoy the views practically uninterrupted. Fabulous views over the whole of Zurich, hazily over to the ZurichSee made those steps, and the 2CHF fee, more than worthwhile. It gave us a great sense of the layout of the city too. We also enjoyed watching the jackdaws flying in and out of the very top of the tower, dropping twigs as they went, clearly nest building.Back down into the church, which is quite plain and austere - a result, my guidebook told me, of the Reformation. Many people go to enjoy the large colourful stained glass windows by Giacometti, but being contrary, I really like the large modern floral arrangement that stood where you might expect an altar to be. We went down into the little peaceful vaulted crypt too, where the original 15th century statue of Charlemagne from the South Tower is kept (there's a replacement up there now). Out into the morning air once more and across the river to the Fraumünster. Just the one graceful spire this time, and to my mind, a less pleasant interior. However the main feature of this church is the stained glass windows by Marc Chagall in the transept - in fact most people seem to ignore the rest of the church altogether. How much you like them really depends on how much you like his work. They're somewhat oddly sited in that there is a wall across the church in front of them that separates that end off like a Lady Chapel, and bisects the space. It means that even from the other end of the church, you don't get a full view of the glass, whereas you'd think they should illuminate the whole building. From the other side you can enjoy the glass and get fairly close. However Chagall isn't really my thing, and the way in which the rest of the building felt almost abandoned mean that the place seemed more like a gallery than a church. Out again, and off to St Peters Kirche, which has the largest clock face in Europe - and it really is big! Inside is a very peaceful and calm place a bit like a ballroom, the most "religious" feeling of the three to my mind. We sat and listened to the organist practising for that night's concert and enjoyed it. Close
Written by haslo04 on 19 Jan, 2007
How to use (and buy) Eurail Train Passes.Needless to say, European trains are superb. They are fast, on-time, clean and comfortable. They also go nearly everywhere. Of recent, low-cost airlines have become exceedingly popular in Europe and you can actually fly from London to Germany…Read More
How to use (and buy) Eurail Train Passes.Needless to say, European trains are superb. They are fast, on-time, clean and comfortable. They also go nearly everywhere. Of recent, low-cost airlines have become exceedingly popular in Europe and you can actually fly from London to Germany for 10 bucks on a promotional airfare. Since I was eighteen, though, I wanted to see Europe using the train pass and that's what we set out to do this time. Back then, the passes seemed so expensive for my McDonald's salary budget. Being thirty, I decided to bite the bullet and fulfill my dream. We are both very happy that we took the trains. Unlike flying, taking the train offers great opportunity to see the land you are traveling through and that was important to us. In the end, we zoomed in the fast supertrains through French countryside, slowly climbed the narrow-track rail up the Swiss peaks and dined in style on an Austrian express. It was great and all for one price of the rail pass. There are 27 European countries participating in the rail pass system and you can buy travel in any of these countries. All rail passes are administered by the same company, Eurail, and though you can buy them through many different websites, the pricing and services are all the same. The only difference in shopping at different websites are the additional perks they send along and the shipping charge (which is usually free anyway). The sites I looked at were www.railpass.com and www.raileurope.com There is a great variety of passes, from a single-country three day pass to a 15-country one month pass. Most passes are for the first class travel and the sites are excellent at describing all the categories. We got the four-country regional 5 day pass, which cost us about 300 bucks each. That is a bargain, considering that any given trip (like Lyon-Geneva, for example) on our 5 day itinerary would cost about 100 bucks each. French and Swiss trains are great, but they are expensive.One essential tool in planning the train travel is access to train schedules. They send one with the pass usually, but nothing beats the Travelocity train service at www.travelocity.com where I planned the entire trip. Now, the passes will get you the tickets on the train, but they won't get you reservations, which are needed for the French TGV supertrains, as well as for all sleeper trains. In other words, the passes do not guarantee a seat on any given train and if you have tight schedule, you run some risk of not getting the train you want. Travelocity will sell you reservations at $11 a seat, which can add up. We chose to risk it and not buy any reservations except the sleeper train from Austria to Poland. It turned out to be a good idea. The TGV reservations were only 3 euros for both of us and these trains run so frequently that they were quite empty in the middle of peak summer season. So, don't get any reservations online, but purchase them as soon as you can once you get to your destination. Also, make sure to purchase the pass well in advance, as it has to be mailed to you. You can not buy it in Europe, since it is designed to attract visitors to the Old Continent, and not to provide savings for those who are already there. Once you get to your first station, validate the pass at the ticket window (need the passport for that) and off you go! Close
Written by sbmalik on 24 Aug, 2006
Wonderful experienceOur trip in Switzerland was arranged by Swiss Ropeway organization. Rigth from picking us up from Zurich Airport to dropping back at Zurich town, our course director provided all the help in finding place to stay, food of our choice, transport all through our…Read More
Wonderful experienceOur trip in Switzerland was arranged by Swiss Ropeway organization. Rigth from picking us up from Zurich Airport to dropping back at Zurich town, our course director provided all the help in finding place to stay, food of our choice, transport all through our stay. Swiss people are very hard working.The roads in Switzerland are among the best in the world. We drove aout 1200 kms in 4 days of our visit, including over 600 kms on last day. The roads are beautiful. You can drive up to 120 kmph as per limit. Long tunnels, some close to 24 kms, provides smooth and short journeys. The discipline on the roads is fantastic. No overtaking, no honking like in other countries. We were driving up a hill road and the car in front was going at slow pace but at no time our course director honked or tried to overtake even when there was no traffic on other lane. We travelled from Zurich to Bern (125 kms), then went to Meiringen-Hasliberg area on the first day. Meiringen country is setting up a training center for ropeways. The ride in 80 SEATER AERIAL TRAMWAY FROM HASLIBERG TO REUTI, was followed by mono cable gondola ride up the 3 sections of Reuti-Bidmi-Magisalp-Alpen Tower takes you to 2250 metres above sea level. The gondola rides are on a latest up graded system, among the best in the world. The restaurant at Magisalp provided a sumptuous meal of Swiss Rosti with Pork and Potatoes. We stayed for night at Lucerne, a very nice town on the banks of river/lake. The hotel with a view of lake and the famous chapel bridge was nice and comfortable. It was drizzling so we could not enjoy fully but nevertheless took a stroll in the area around lake, going over the chapel bridge, shops selling swiss watches, bakery products.We spent the next day at Rapperswil and crossed over to Austria for night stay at Wolfurt.After spending our 3rd day in Austria, we left Wolfurt at 630 hrs in the morning and drove for over 350 kms, stopping only for a light breakfast to arrive at Interlaken around early mid morning. After collecting jackets we travelled up the funicular at Allmendhubel. This is a funicular from Murren to Allmendhubel in Murren-Schilthorn area. This is one of the modern funicular system, which was originally built in 1912 and recently renovated. To reach Murren you have to first take the Jigback ropeway from Stechel Berg (910 mtr) to Gimmelwald (1363 mtr), another Jigback which is on the same drive station from Gimmelwald to Murren. Two other ropeways systems from Murren (1650 mtr) to Birg (2677 mtr) and finally from Birg to Schilthorn (2970 mtr) are also part of the famous Schilthorn ropeway. There is a revolving restaurant at 3000 mtrs atop Schilthorn, famous for the shooting of James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Murren town with fresh snow the previous day provided a white backdrop. Murren has very intersting trekking routes. In the afternoon we visited another funicular system from Thunersee to Beatenberg. This is adjacent to Lake Thun and the view of lake and countryside from funicular is very nice. This is a latest funicular installation, about a year old, with all modern systems. There are further ropeway system at this Resort from Beatenberg to Vorsass and then to Niederhorn. This consists of pulsated Gondola system consisting of 3 cabins in a group and 4 such groups of cabins.The integrated transport system in Switzerland consisting of Railways, Ropeways, Cruises, Highways with cars , buses provides visitors with great comfort and all types of mode of travel. Railways with cogwheels going up the mountains at 3000 metres above sea level are the highest railway system in the world. The ropeway technology with all modern system of aerial ropeawys, jig back systems, mono cable, bi cable installations, funicular railways are worth the rides to reach the mountain tops. Switzerland is a destination both for summer as well as winter tourists and the visitor will never be disappointed by the facilities, hospitality. Go to Switzerland and enjoy. Close
Written by Joy S on 25 Oct, 2005
76 miles southwest of Zurich airport, Interlaken is situated in the heart of the Bernese Oberland region between the two lakes of Thun and Brienz. The River Aare, which links the lakes, runs right through the town. Interlaken itself is flat, but has low mountains…Read More
76 miles southwest of Zurich airport, Interlaken is situated in the heart of the Bernese Oberland region between the two lakes of Thun and Brienz. The River Aare, which links the lakes, runs right through the town. Interlaken itself is flat, but has low mountains on one side and on the other the spectacular panorama of the Jungfrau, Eiger, and Monch. The best way to see everything in Interlaken is to walk - you can randomly stroll around and enjoy the views in all directions or, if you prefer a more structured walking tour, the Tourist Information Office has a very good selection of maps and guided walks available. Every Monday at 5pm they also organise a free guided walk around the town. We found this to be interesting and informative - it is conducted in English and German. The main street in Interlaken is the Hoheweg - it runs right through the middle of the town, between the East and West train stations. It is lined with little shops selling Swiss souvenirs and handicrafts, as well as hotels and cafes. The cafes all sell a mouthwatering selection of pastries - we particularly enjoyed afternoon tea at Cafe Schuh on the edge of the Hohematte. It is well worth wandering off the Hoheweg into the casino gardens - they are very beautiful, especially the flower clock, and a lovely place to sit and relax with a book or just enjoy the views.In the centre of Interlaken is the Hohematte, a great open meadow with a panorama of the snow-capped mountains. It was originally the site where Augustine monks pastured their cattle, but is now a large park. Frequently you see paragliders floating down off the nearby mountains and landing right in the middle of it. Horse carriage rides, or fiacres, are a lovely restful way to spend half an hour when you tire of walking. They leave from Interlaken West train station and cost around 35 Swiss francs for a half-hour trip. Our driver took us around the Hohematte and was friendly, chatty, informative, and happy to take lots of photos of us and our son afterwards. Interlaken has two main vantage points - Heimweh Fluh and Harder Kulm - both of which are easy to get to and worth a visit. Harder Kulm is 4,337 feet up and accessed by a funicular just across the river behind the East train station. The funicular rises above the woods, offering wonderful views of the town and the lakes. It takes 10 minutes to get to the top, where you have a bird's eye view of Interlaken. When you leave the funicular near the summit, there is a pagoda-like structure, the Harder Kulm mountain restaurant. We ate delicious Rosti sitting on the sun terrace. Heimweh Fluh is near the West train station. A vintage red funicular dating from 1906 climbs to this more touristy venue. There are lovely views from the summit and tower. At the top there is also a children's play area, model train exhibition, and an all-weather toboggan run that is a fun and interesting way to make the descent. Tip: We purchased a ticket from the Tourist Information Office - 50 Swiss Francs for two adults and two children -which covered the funicular ascent and toboggan descent, the railway exhibition, and a glass each of sparking wine or lemonade. This seemed to be good value for money and cheaper than paying at Heimweh Fluh for everything separately. Close
Written by hajecj on 21 Oct, 2004
No trip to Geneva should miss the basics: the Vieille Ville is a lovely spot and when the weather is nice, there is no better stopping point than La Clemence in Place de Bourg de Four for a coffee and croissant, or something a…Read More
No trip to Geneva should miss the basics: the Vieille Ville is a lovely spot and when the weather is nice, there is no better stopping point than La Clemence in Place de Bourg de Four for a coffee and croissant, or something a little stronger. If you are feeling lazy and prefer not to walk the hill up to the old town, take the train. There is a tourist tram that embarks at the bridge at the Ile de Rousseau, just across the Rhone from the Hotel Des Bergues if you are coming from the train station. It winds its way up into the old town, conveniently stops in front of St. Peters Cathedral, and, voila, you are in the old town. For 8 francs I will walk thanks, but it’s a nice choice for the weary traveler.
The old St. Peters cathedral is a bit austere, no surprise given Geneva’s reputation as the seat of Calvinism, but take a step into the cathedrals chapel just off the Narthex and marvel at the beautiful stained glass and the ornately decorated walls. If you are an intrepid aficionado of archeology, its worth it to visit the unearthed foundations of the church dating back to early Roman times, and getting a sense of the depth (no pun intended) of the local history. The entrance is down a flight of stairs just to the right of the main entrance outside the church.
The best advice from there is to explore - simply wander in any direction and enjoy the shop windows and restaurants. The Maison Tavel is an interesting brief stop, if only for its collection of medieval and renaissance pieces. Les Armures, in front of the Maison Tavel has a reputation for its fondue, but have no fear, fondue is pretty common in Geneva, and an awful lot of restaurants do it well, so don’t feel obligated just yet. Generally speaking, the locals do not eat fondue in the summer, but don’t let the funny looks you may get deter you: a nice moitie-moitie (vacherin and gruyere) fondue with a bottle of Geneva red wine (I recommend the Gamaret served chilled) can hit the spot, even on a warm summer afternoon. But of course it’s meant to be a cold-weather, heart-warming dish.
The streets are very colorful with cantonal flags and government offices intermingled with the shops, restaurants, and cafes. Dining outdoors in the evening at Café Papon is very agreeable, situated as it is at a gateway in the old city walls and a picturesque courtyard dining area, as is Soupcon down the street from La Clemence (run by some Lausanne hotel school grads with an eye for great service and food). Chez ma Cousine On y mange du poulet (roughly meaning the house of my cousin where we eat chicken) is a great joint for a value meal in the old town – 15 francs for half a roasted chicken, a heaping pile of frites, and a salad. Right next door to Soupcon, and no reservations accepted…
Reservations are a requirement generally speaking. That is if you aren’t a risk taker, and they are particularly needed for lunch, but for dinner as well. Unless you show up at a restaurant very early for lunch, it can be difficult to get a seat. Geneva is a small town, but during the workday, its ranks swell with the bankers and business people who commute in from other cantons or from France. And lunch is an event - I haven’t met a banker yet here who is not deeply attached to a leisurely 2-hour lunch break. Even that little pizzeria you saw as you wandered up to the old town with its eclectic menu of Pizza au Thon and salads du jour will be jammed up by 1:15pm. So take note, and plan accordingly.
The prime shopping quarter of Geneva is between Rue de Rhone and Rue de Rive. The tram line runs down the center of Rue de Rive (the no. 12 and 16 lines) and cars are not allowed on it. It is Geneva’s 5th Avenue, and while the really expensive stores are on Rue de Rhone, the main department stores (Globus, Bon Genie) are on Rive as are FNAC (electronics and books) and Payot (books). You want to drop some cash on a fancy Swiss watch and are looking for the best deals? My advice is to go to New York City. I have not bought a Swiss watch here, but I am reliably informed by numerous sources that, unless you are well connected, you are going to find better prices elsewhere. But for selection, you will not find better and if you are dead set on spending $2,000 to $50,000 on a timepiece, this is the place. You will have no trouble at all finding a store to give your money too.
Globus is a worthwhile stopping point, especially if you are hungry. There are two food courts, one above the Rue de Rhone entrance and another facing on Place Molard. There is a wonderful gourmet food and wine shop in the basement of the department store as well. Check it out, as it’s a great place to stock up the hotel room with any snacks or drinks you might want to eat on Sunday (more on Sundays in Geneva later). There are a number of cafes lining Place Molard, which has recently been reconstructed and is another great outdoor hangout in center Geneva.
No place on the beaten path in Geneva is quite as physically beautiful as the lakeside parks, and they really deserve some time to stroll along. When you have finished your visit to the old town and concluded your bargaining at the watch store, take a wander in the direction of the Jet d’Eau. Can’t miss it. The 250-foot high jet of water is a throwback to an old engineering device that the Swiss used to release pressure on the locks across the Rhone. Visitors to town were so enthralled with the amazing gusher that the Swiss cleverly built a motorized version with appropriately handsome lighting and placed it along the lake as an attraction.
If by chance you have purchased a day pass for the tram, make use of it by taking a boat across the lake from the Jardin Anglais (the park near the Jet d’Eau and home of the strangely famous flower clock) to Rive Gauche - hey, why walk if you can ride. You can also buy a 30-minute ticket for 2.20 francs and go across. The promenade along this side of the lake is, in my opinion, a lovelier walk than the center city side. If you are fortunate and have a clear day, you can see the Alps in the distance and the peak of Mt. Blanc sparkling in the sunshine with the city of Geneva in the foreground (don’t worry, you won’t be the first to snap this pic).
In all seasons the Bain de Paquis is an unusual spot on the Geneva social scene. Bain de Paquis is the beach of Geneva, built on the pier jutting into the Rhone from the left bank (directly across from the right bank pier from which spouts the Jet d’Eau). In summer, the entrance fee is 1CHF, and out of season is free. In summer you will find, as they say, tout le monde hanging out here. If you are a topless sunbather at heart, here is your chance to work on that tan. The Bain has a couple of swimming holes in the lake, several diving boards and high dives, and a really acceptable café in addition to its pebbly lakeside beach. When the weather cools, the Bain stokes up the hammams and steam rooms that can be rented if you feel like a nice Turkish bath. On summer evenings, the Bain de Paquis is the meeting place for the 20-ish crowd preparing for a big night out. My first experience with the Bain de Paquis came on my first trip to Geneva when I left my hotel one Sunday morning in search of a cup of coffee. Geneva is indisputably closed on Sundays, but the café at Bain de Paquis serves coffee and croissants by 8:30am. Truly a lifesaver.
If you manage to tear yourself away from the people-watching at Bain de Paquis, there is a lovely walk up the lakeside. The wide promenade is dotted with small ice cream stands and outdoor cafes at the end of which is a lovely lakeside park. A nice walk, and also a great jogging itinerary if you are so inclined. This is in the general direction of the United Nations compound, and if you are interested in visiting that organization, take your passport (it’s a little blot of internationalism in the midst of Geneva and has its own border police) and hop the 13 tram in the direction of "Nations".
Written by Invicta73 on 06 Nov, 2003
The Swiss public transport system is not only the epitome of the nation's famed reputation for good organisation and cleanliness, but also extensively covers what is one of the most beautiful parts of Europe. Therefore, it seemed to me that making a scenic railway…Read More
The Swiss public transport system is not only the epitome of the nation's famed reputation for good organisation and cleanliness, but also extensively covers what is one of the most beautiful parts of Europe. Therefore, it seemed to me that making a scenic railway excursion was an obvious thing to do whilst in the country. In fact, one of my primary motivations for going to Lugano was that I could return from the city on the Bernina Express, one of the routes intended to provide visitors with almost unrivalled opportunities to enjoy the spectacular mountainous backdrops.
The first leg involved leaving Ticino and traverses the pleasant rolling hills of Lombardy towards Tirano, spending a lot of time on the shores of Lake Como in the process. Under normal circumstances, the countryside outside would definitely be worthy of a few superlatives, but on this particular occasion, it simply could not compete with what was to come later. Therefore, I was extremely pleased to have started in the south rather than finishing there, as that would have probably proved to an anticlimax.
Unfortunately, the connection left no time to explore after arriving in the town, which is supposedly a fairly picturesque little place, as the main part of the journey was due to start almost immediately. The first noticeable thing after boarding was the carriage itself, the design of which enabled the maximum possible appreciation of the outside world. The unbelievably large windows extended almost to the very top of the train, and ran its entire length with the minimum possible interruption.
It did not take too long after getting underway and crossing back over the border before encountering the first real point of interest. The bridge at Bivio is an eye-catching and highly unusual structure that loops 360 degrees whilst gaining height. It is a fine example of the sort of ingenious devices used to handle steep gradients as an alternative to the more usual cogwheels. Due to such innovative feats of engineering, the act of constructing the line is quite possibly almost as impressive as the terrain that it passes through. In fact, the builders did not seem daunted when faced with the immense obstacle that is the Alps, but rather, they rose to the challenge with considerable aplomb.
The climb into the mountains then continues through a series of tight bends up towards the icy heights of Alp Grüm, and it was then that the spectacular vistas associated with the region came into view for the very first time. In addition, the true uniqueness of the experience became fully apparent. After all, how many other railways transport people from lakeside palm trees to snow covered peaks in the space of just a few hours?
Having eventually reached the highest point, over 7,000 feet, the train travels through the rugged landscape that has enabled the ancient Romansh language to survive to the present day, and which is home to illustrious ski resorts such as St Moritz, Davos and Klosters. It then follows the time-honoured path through the Bernina and Albula Passes that has facilitated a link between northern Italy and the heart of Switzerland for hundreds of years. Although the former is undoubtedly lovely and obviously inspired the evocative name of the express, the latter is more interesting, mainly because of the viaduct over a deep gorge that curves majestically whilst linking the mouth of a tunnel and a section of track along a narrow ridge.
The final stretch, the descent towards Chur, was literally, and also somewhat metaphorically, downhill all of the way. But whilst admittedly not quite as aesthetically spectacular as what had gone before, the views were still very nice, and it proved to be a fine epilogue to a wonderful few hours.
The only real drawback of the trip is the price of the tickets, which was not far short of 100 francs one-way when the compulsory reservation fee is included. However, I would still wholeheartedly recommend doing it to anyone who does not find the cost to be too off putting, as it is definitely an unforgettable way to experience truly wonderful panoramas.
Written by Invicta73 on 04 Jan, 1900
Quite accidentally and somewhat foolishly, I managed to start the trip to the Jungfrau region by travelling there on Swiss National Day. Therefore, it was actually just good luck that any of the festivities were encountered at all.
As the name perhaps suggests, it is…Read More
Quite accidentally and somewhat foolishly, I managed to start the trip to the Jungfrau region by travelling there on Swiss National Day. Therefore, it was actually just good luck that any of the festivities were encountered at all.
As the name perhaps suggests, it is a celebration of the history and culture of Switzerland, and is one of the most important annual public holidays in the country's calendar. Although not as romantic as the myth of William Tell fighting Hapsburg injustices, the commemorated pledge of mutual assistance taken by men from the three original cantons at the Rütli meadow over 700 years ago actually proved to be in effect the defining moment in the creation of the modern nation.
Having sat on a train for a couple of hours before reaching Interlaken, where a change was required, spending some time outside before taking the onward connection felt like a decent option. It also proved to be a good choice, because the local parade was just about to get underway. Nearly all of the participants were dressed the kind of traditional rural costumes that are more usually seen exhibited in a folk museum or worn by Shirley Temple and company in the famous film version of Heidi. Represented were many of the things that come to mind when thinking of the nation, including the amazing large thoroughbred St Bernard rescue dogs, as well as the equally oversized and very loud alphorns. Whilst it was nice to see and hear the unique instruments at first hand, understanding how such cumbersome objects could have ever been practical in an undulating land is still difficult!
Afterwards, a brief exploration of the town led to a pretty old square across the river in the Untersee district, where a less formal event was taking place. Joining the numerous merrymakers sitting at long benches, and drinking a cool beer under the warm sun was a real pleasure, which was heightened by the wonderfully clean air and stunning views of the surrounding medieval architecture and picturesque mountainous backdrop. The experience was also refreshing because the relaxed and jovial atmosphere was such a great contrast to the stereotypical formality often associated with the Swiss, which seemed especially pertinent having just seen so many almost clichéd images.
Meanwhile, the evening spent in Lauterbrunnen was no less enjoyable, mainly because of the fireworks, which are integral part of the celebrations. Another piece of excellent luck meant that the balcony of my room in the Hotel Staubbach was the perfect place from which to watch the proceedings. Although the display may not have been of international size or standard, it was not particularly small either, and was well organised and executed. However, what made the show special was the way that every single burst of colour illuminated the steep rock faces of the valley in a very eye-catching manner. It was truly a spectacular way both to round off an unexpectedly memorable day and to begin a fantastic stay in the vicinity.
Written by jaybroek on 08 Mar, 2005
You can see the Mont Blanc from the Father of the Blonde’s front terrace. Some fifty miles or so to the east, the massif forms an awe-inspiring wall on the horizon. On my first visit a few Septembers ago, I didn’t acquit myself well in…Read More
You can see the Mont Blanc from the Father of the Blonde’s front terrace. Some fifty miles or so to the east, the massif forms an awe-inspiring wall on the horizon. On my first visit a few Septembers ago, I didn’t acquit myself well in the conversation stakes until the clouds descended and the view was lost. My future father-in-law must have wondered what his daughter saw in this unworldly mute. Now I understood why the Blonde finds the rolling pasture of the East Midlands somewhat understated.
Clearly, I needed to work through this whole Big White Mountain fixation. Ascent was fixed for the following day, and we headed for the Chamonix valley, nestled at the base of the Mont Blanc range on its French side. A major ski resort, Chamonix is still pretty busy in the summer, with alpine walkers, mountaineers, and a few high-altitude skiers cluttering up the place in their trendy fleece and gortex wear. The pure, clean air virtually crackles with healthiness and infects all with a desire for exertion. We made straight for the cable car in a desperate attempt to avoid being overcome. Trying to understand the
fare structure was quite taxing enough for us.
We boarded the next cabin, giants of the genre designed to carry upwards of 70 people. With space to move around we had ample opportunity to enjoy the increasingly astounding view. The first section of the ascent up to the Plan de l’Aiguille lifted us over a kilometer vertically in around 10 minutes. The chalets of Chamonix shrank below, and we started to peek over the first of the Aiguilles Rouges that line the north and west sides of the valley.
As we approached the changeover station, a cluster of parasols was spotted below, and this being France, and the Blonde and her father being fully ‘Frenchified’, thoughts quickly turned to lunch. The Refuge du Plan is an easy few hundred yards back down the mountain: a small terrace and hut that churns out a wide but simple array of hot and cold food. The presence of a donkey tied up round the back suggests they don’t rely on the cable car for supplies. We dawdled over vin rouge, charcuterie et frites while the Father of the Blonde grilled me about my ‘prospects’. Apprehension about the onward journey began to creep over me; I’ve seen ‘Where Eagles Dare’ too many times.
The final ascent to the Aiguille du Midi took us above the summer snowline to an altitude of 3,777 metres in one single, sweeping span. For an alarming period just below the station, we appeared to be heading straight into the side of the mountain. This is where the wobbly legs began. A mixture of vague acrophobia had been joined by the impact of altitude, and we could barely walk a few steps without desiring a good long sit down. The complex at the Aiguille du Midi seems purpose built to exaggerate any fear you may have; iron grille stairways that give you a view 2,000 metres straight down, workmen hanging over the edge of the platform and fiddling with what appear to be crucial bolts. So what do you do next? Take the elevator up another 150 metres of course. The difference in view between 3,777m and 3,842m is negligible but, well you have to don’t you?
Before descending, we stopped for a fortifying hot chocolate in the personality-free, self-service restaurant. The walls were covered with images of tweed-clad, bewhiskered gentlemen scaling the mountain. These sepia murals celebrate Chamonix’s claim to be the birthplace of mountaineering, harking back to a golden time when all you needed to climb something of this scale were a pair of stout shoes, a hip flask, a ladder (?), and a healthy dose of derring-do.
We descended into what remained of a warm, late summer afternoon. I had bonded with my future father-in-law while gazing over sun-dazzled peaks, and the Blonde’s wobbly knees were getting a little sturdier. The temperature rose 15 degrees as the ants got bigger, donned fleeces and started walking on their back legs around Chamonix. Altitude sure plays with your head.
Compagnie du Mont Blanc website
Saturday is market day in Ferney-Voltaire, a town in the next commune where the father of the Blonde enjoys his French living. Market day in Ferney is something of an event, as it is across all of France, and is an excellent opportunity to sample…Read More
Saturday is market day in Ferney-Voltaire, a town in the next commune where the father of the Blonde enjoys his French living. Market day in Ferney is something of an event, as it is across all of France, and is an excellent opportunity to sample something of the local flavour. The streets in the centre of town are closed to traffic, and with the grand mairie festooned in tricolores serving as the backdrop, I made myself useful as a vegetable carrier while Savta did the purchasing for a planned dinner party. As we strolled between stalls and sampled interesting tidbits, my father-in-law answered my questions about the town and the influence of its patriarch; the so-called squire of Ferney.
Until the middle of the 18th century, Ferney had been a largely insignificant border village of 150. Isolated from much of France, it attracted little attention until, in 1758, its seigniory was bought by Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire. In his 60s by this time, Voltaire had made a life’s work of getting up the nose of the establishment and had spent the larger part of his adult life relocating. Expressing his philosophies on matters of social injustice and equality through anonymous pamphlets and theatre had made Voltaire persona non grata in his native Paris, leading him to spend extended periods in exile in England, at the court of Frederick the Great in Berlin, and most recently in nearby Geneva. Here he had broken laws that forbade the performance of plays, and Voltaire sought a place where he could enjoy the social freedom of France while not giving up the political freedom of Geneva. A rich man by this time, he did the obvious thing and bought himself a village.
The car parks around Ferney are filled with Swiss cars on market day. Strict limitations on agriculture in Switzerland mean that goods across the border are noticeably cheaper. They dominate the multinational mix that line up to taste the Jura’s cheeses, boar saucisson, and, of course, wine. The towns and villages of the Pays de Gex act as dormitories for the many employees of the large international organizations based in Geneva, and Ferney is one of the largest.
Voltaire took to his role of country gent with aplomb. He built a church and a school and established numerous industries, including watch-making and pottery. His reputation had spread far, and many of the great and the good journeyed to his grand chateau on the edge of town to share in intellectual banter. For those 20 years, this humble village in eastern France became the centre of the Enlightenment. Due to the security of his position and with the cussedness that old age brings, Voltaire no longer played the game of anonymous publishing and denial. During his time at Ferney, he became more involved in high-profile discourses on liberty and religious freedom and championed the oppressed. Ferney grew under his patronage, and by the time of his triumphal return to Paris in 1778 and subsequent rapid demise at the age of 84, it had grown tenfold and become a renowned centre for artisans. To insure against the magic wearing off, the name of the town was tinkered with and Ferney-Voltaire was born.
Today, the squire of Ferney watches over a sweet stall, his stooped figure rising above the striped awnings. He died over 10 years before revolution tore the country he knew apart and a republic was established based on values he treasured and espoused. What would he have thought of the results of all that Enlightenment?
Voltaire’s chateau became a national monument in 1999 and is now open to the public in the summer… sometimes. Check Ferney-Voltaire’s website for refurbishment news. His former home in Geneva, Les Delices, is also a museum dedicated to his life.