Jun 22

Thun, Interlaken

For this Friday post we’re looking back at our trip two weeks ago today. Enjoy the photos that tell the tale of this amazing adventure, which brought our wonderful vacation, sadly, to a close …

Don’t tell anyone, it is a secret, but we found our next house.

To be honest, we weren’t on the market, not really, but they say when you know, you know. You know? So come get to know Schadau Castle. It sits on the south side of the Aare, a tributary of the High Rhine, and just off Lake Thun. It is on the Swiss Inventory of Cultural Property of National and Regional Significance as it was built between 1846 and 1854 according to the plans of Pierre-Charles Dusillon in the Gothic Revival style, for the banker Abraham Denis Alfred de Rougemont.

Inside there’s a restaurant and the Swiss Gastronomy Museum, but those might be moved under the new ownership. And sure, this might seem a little rash to you, but we saw this sign, and we were inspired by Mach.

We’ve completely glossed over the word “was.”

Anyway, outside the Schadau Castle the views are terrific. This is Lake Thun.

And, in the background, you can see Stockhorn, which is in the Bernese Alps. From The Stockhorn’s summit at 7,190 feet you can dine, hike, and see many of the surrounding Alps and the valley of the Aare River and, of course, this lake.

This one is either Niesen or Morgenberghorn. (You’ll have to forgive me I’m doing this from maps and as a lifelong resident of foothills, coastal plains and … it is apparently called lowland hills where we live now … I am not an expert at mountain ID or distance estimation of Very Large Things.)

Let’s assume it is Morgenberghorn for a moment. The Swiss tourism site tells us the summit is at 4,068 feet, it’s a 6.2 mile route “for ambitious hikers.” And it’ll take you about six hours to get to the top, but you get great views when you’re there. I found an accomplished adventure hiker’s review of Morgenberghorn. He said “This route is a little tricky and there are a number of parts where you need to use your hands to climb. Chains are installed in most sections of the trail where you need to use your hands. I never felt unsafe or exposed … I’d only go for this hike if you are up for a bit of a challenge. In addition to the chains and rocky path, it is also 1300m of incline over 7km so you are doing some considerable incline to reach the summit … Solid day on the legs.” I think that’s probably Morgenberghorn.

But let’s assume, just for a moment, that the above is Niesen, because I just learned about something amazing there. Niesen tops out at 7,749 feet. This mountain boasts the longest stairway in the world, with 11,674 steps. It is only open to the public one day a year, for a stair run event. We missed this by a week!

The age group podium for the women was a 43-year-old who won in 1:15:20. Her chief rival, a 50-year-old was just 34 seconds back. We are presently enthralled by Doris Oester, the third place woman in the older age division (they seem to draw the line around the 42-year-old range). That more mature age group beat all of the younger women, so the third place woman third of all the women. And her time puts her at 30th in the overall.

Also, Doris Oester is 70 years-old.

She won this race in 2011. In 2016 she finished second. (She was two-and-a-half minutes faster this year than in 2016.) We are big Doris Oester fans.

For the men’s age group, a 42-year-old got up all 11,674 steps in 1:06:24. A 43-year-old was 1:33 back from the winner. And a 49-year-old man took third place with a time of 1:08:39.

But I digress.

Look who’s considering dipping her toes in Lake Thun.

… Still thinking about it …

… Considering running up all those stairs next year …

One foot in. She says it is cold. I’d be stunned if it wasn’t.

And wading out to her hemline.

Excellent use of the selfie stick there, as I stayed on the shore, warm and dry, to take these photos.

We discovered the surfers at Flusswelle Thun. There were six surfers out there on this Friday. When it was your turn you grabbed that ski rope and worked your way over to the spot where you see the guy surfing here. If you made it into that pocket it seemed that you could stay until you got bored, or made a silly mistake. This guy was actually standing on his board, gesturing and talking with people passing by on the bridge.

In the late afternoon we caught another train to visit Interlaken one more time. There were a few chocolate stores to visit. Here are a few of the sites from Interlaken, and the train ride back to Zurich.

This train ride took us back to Zurich. You probably don’t think of a train ride as an activity — I wouldn’t, ordinarily — but these views.

I came all the way to Switzerland for this photograph, I just didn’t know it until it flashed by.

Yes, that will be in the rotating banners on the top of the site soon.

Lake Brienz seems like a great place to go sailing, or to take a walk.

Mountains coming right down to a body of water will never not be impressive.

One more image for those sailors-at-heart.

And for those preferring a more pastoral foreground, with twin mountains in the background, here you go.

Switzerland is a beautiful place. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to visit. And I thank you for your indulgence in letting me stretch out vacation photos for two weeks here. Next week, we’ll start getting back into the normal routine on the site, much of it consisting of trying to answer the question “Where are we going next? And when should I start packing?”

Jun 22

The world’s steepest cogwheel

For this extra Thursday post we’re looking back at our trip two weeks ago today. Enjoy the photos (and the two videos!) that tell the tale of this recent, amazing, adventure …

In the last post we went to the top of Mt. Pilatus, a journey which took a bus, and two separate ski lift cars to get to the long, winding stairs that wound around the top and, finally, showed us the summit at 6,949 feet.

When you’re that high up, how do you get down? Well, this is the Golden Round Trip, so you do something a little bit scary and superlative.

You ride in the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. The gradient is, at one point, 48 percent! The steepness was a cost-saving measure from when the railway was built in 1889. The system was a special design because engineers worried the steepness would make the gear teeth jump. Most of the railway, in fact, is that original hardware.

The cars were steam until the 1930s, and these went in over the course of the ’70s. The spare controls are a giveaway. This is all that keeps this descent under control.

New cars are going in right now, and the upgrades will be completed in 2023. As for this day, I like to think that the engineer was a bit nervous about all of this.

This is the track he was peering down. His car travels from 5-7 miles per hour.

The descent takes about half an hour, and I’ve got three minutes of highlights for you here.

And here are two shots of the rock faces from the cogwheel car’s descent.

I must say, I enjoyed that an awful lot more than I thought I would. It was a unique sort of experience, to be sure.

I wonder who’s been up and down the mountain on the cogwheel car the most.

Near the end of that video, you caught a glimpse of a boat coming ashore. That was our next stop, and how we wrapped up the Golden Round Trip — aerial cableways and gondola to summit Mount Pilatus, world’s steepest cogwheel railway and, finally — a beautiful ride on Lake Lucerne, one of Switzerland’s largest lakes.

And here are two views from on the lake.

It’s difficult to believe, and more than a little sad, that our vacation was coming quickly to it’s end. After the boat ride it was back on the bus, and back to Zurich. There was dinner (we had barbecue, hipster-almost-Texas barbecue) and got ready for one last day of fun.

But you’ll have to come back tomorrow to find out what we did. (It’ll be worth seeing.)

Jun 22

Luzern, Mt. Pilatus

For this Thursday post we’re looking back at our trip two weeks ago today. We’re catching up, you see, so sit back, enjoy the many photos (and the two charming videos!) that tell the tale of this recent, amazing, adventure …

We took what they call the Golden Round Trip, in this part of the world. This part being central Switzerland. We caught a bus tour out of Zurich to Luzern. It’s the most populous city in this part of the country, there are 82,000 people in the city, and 220,000 in the metro. We had a great lunch sandwich there, but it was just a quick stop in the round trip. The first feature being the Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge, which is a covered wooden footbridge spanning the Reuss River. The bridge is named for the nearby St. Peter’s Chapel.

The tower is a few decades older than the bridge, and has been used as a prison, torture chamber, and later a municipal archive as well as a local treasury. Today, it’s a gift shop. The bridge was a city fortification. But, hey, you say, what’s that white building in the background?

That’s the Château Gütsch, built in 1879 and turned into a hotel, before being destroyed by fire in 1888. Rebuilt in 1901, the current version is inspired by a Bavarian castle. Today, it is owned by a Russian oligarch.

Back to the bridge, which contains a number of paintings that reach back to the 17th century. It felt odd that they were just … there … semi-exposed to the elements. The paintings depicted the local history. Many of the surviving 147 existed were lost in a fire in the 1990s, but 30 were restored and displayed once again for foot traffic. The Kapellbrücke is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe, and the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge.

Like I said, we just stopped here briefly. We got a sandwich at a deli, where I had the world’s best panini, and where we saw these incredible treats.

It’s called erdbeertörtli here.

We took the first of two lifts. This first one was a 20-minute ride in a private car up and away from Luzern.

We met this guy at the stop waiting for the second lift.

The second lift took everyone in our little tour group, a thoroughly crowded affair, but everyone had an opportunity for a great view.

Then we moved through the lower level of clouds. That’s how high we were going. We were looking down on clouds.

And as we climbed higher the views got more impressive.

At the top we had a few choices. There are three peaks here, and two of them were open. We opted for the slightly more challenging, slightly higher one. Which meant that, despite taking two lifts, we still had to do a bit of walking.

The stairs wrapped all the way around the back of that little outcropping and beyond the photo’s margin. But at least they were sturdy and sensibly safe.

Up there, on Esel, we were rewarded for the effort. And, for a few brief moments, we had the whole thing to ourselves. Because people decided they’d seen enough and went elsewhere. I do not understand that decision. Anyway, here’s a bit of video giving you a quick tour.

These are the Swiss Alps.

It’s a splendid, glorious place.

This is another day trip that The Yankee found. Give her all the credit for bringing us to places like that.

If dragons live up here, like one of the legends says, I think they’re right down there.

Maybe the switchbacks on that path over there were carved into place by the dragon’s wings!

Anyway, get to the top of a mountain when you can, however you can. The time you have at the top is worth the planning and the burning leg muscles.

And here’s a time lapse video showing the clouds moving across the top of Mt. Pilatus.

Finally, this is the Golden Round Trip. There are two more parts of that experience, but I’m breaking this into two posts. The mountaintop experience deserved it’s own treatment, but so does what comes next!

Jun 22

Riding the Glacier Express

We took the Glacier Express, the world’s slowest express train, and enjoyed an afternoon in the Swiss Alps. Trains have been running here since 1889, the Glacier Express started in 1930, but the first panoramic trains, like the ones we enjoyed, have only been on these rails since 1993. The modern cars came in between 2006 and 2009, and they have all recently received a facelift. These are comfortable rides, and they offer three- and four-course meals. (The food was quite tasty …)

Otherwise, you sit back and enjoy the scenery. There are headphones with music and, from time to time, a narration with local points of interest and historical notes. We started in Chur, Switzerland’s oldest town. We traveled through the landscapes brought on by the last Ice Age landslides, and the “Swiss Grand Canyon,” past the oldest Benedictine abbey in the country, through valleys with towns that date back to the 11th and 12th centuries, near UNSECO World Heritage sites and, finally, to Zermatt and the cloud-shrouded Matterhorn, which, on this day, was still able to hide despite topping out at well over 14,000 feet.

But why read about all that, when you can see a bit of video from the train window.

Here’s our train …

And a few photos for you to enjoy. There are a few words down below, so scroll slowly, or you might miss a pun.

Here was dessert. Locally grown berries. Fresh and tasty!

We paralleled this rive a great deal of the trip. The closer you get to it’s source, the richer and whiter the water becomes. It’s full of nutrients and minerals and, eventually, it is very drinkable. But too close to the source, and it’ll give you an upset tummy. No matter where you are in Switzerland, though, the water looks beautiful. And chilly.

Panoramic train windows.

And speaking of panoramas, here’s one now. As with every panorama, click to see the larger version in a new tab.

This is Oberalppass and, at 6,669 feet, the highest point of the train’s trip.

I get one good joke a day. And this is where I used it.

There was a place near Oberalppass where they let us off the train for a few moments. Some of the scenic shots in this part of the post are from there. The Yankee got back on the train before I did, and so I took pictures of the train, too.

Here’s our river again. Notice how the water is getting white? We’re getting closer to the runoff source.

And here we are in Zermatt, a car-free village you can walk through in a few minutes. It’s a charming place. And at the other end of the valley, behind these clouds, you would find the Matterhorn.

We didn’t get to see it. Oh no! We’ll have to come back! Shoot!

Shutter error. Looked cool. I’ve added it here.

We had dinner at a little Italian joint, Casa Mia, next to the train station while waiting for our return train. We ordered pizza. This is the Pugliese, featuring tomatoes, mozzarella, coppa ham, burrata, dried tomatoes. So very tasty. That burrata was amazing …

And here are a few photos from our train out of Zermatt. Just a regular-old train, no panoramic windows, but amazing views. And here I’m able to share a bit more of the gorge-style landscapes.

Also, we had our own train car, which was a great way to travel.

We had to make a connection, but our second train was late in arriving, which shifted our schedule back by about an hour. It was the only train problem we had in Switzerland, an event I noted with this extra photo from our stop between here and there.

And we have two more days of Switzerland adventures to get through. As great as this one was, the one I’ll show you tomorrow might have been even better. So make sure you come back for that. Until then, “Hopp Schwiiz.”

Jun 22

Zurich to Chur trainride

This Wednesday post is a simple photo dump. These are the picturesque things we saw, two weeks ago, before our big event of the day. It was the train ride before the train ride. Sit back, enjoy these photos of a few of the beautiful views between Zurich and Chur.

Up next, the slowest express train in the world and the Swiss Alps.