A Walking Tour of Basel

Prior to the official walking tour of Basel provided by our Viking River Cruise, we explored a bit on our own, heading first to one of the most well-known landmarks, the Spalentor, or Gate of Spalen. Completed in 1473-74, the Spalentor is one of three remaining medieval city gates in Basel and widely regarded as one of the most beautiful city gates in Switzerland.

IMG_1533

Spalentor

Above the opening in the gate, we first spied the symbol which we would later learn was the staff of Basel, used by the Bishops of Basel as early as 1072. It continues today as the symbol of Basel and it appeared on many buildings. See how many you can spot in my photos.

IMG_1537

Spalentor

IMG_1660

Staff of Basel

From the gate, we wandered a bit, just taking in the sights of Old Town.

IMG_1542

View of Old Town from Spalen Gate

Quite by accident, we discovered the Haafelimaart (Autumn Fair) which occurs every year featuring tasty foods, handmade products, and carnival rides. In spite of the chilly overcast day, plenty of people were out and about.

IMG_1585

Autumn Fair

IMG_1561

Autumn Fair

IMG_1584

Products for sale at Autumn Fair

IMG_1670

Autumn Fair

We returned to the ship, settled into our cabins, ate lunch, then filed onto buses to return to Old Town for our official walking tour.

IMG_1605

View of Basel Munster from Wettsteinbrucke

The bus delivered us to the other end of Old Town from where we had explored in the morning to begin our tour. We dutifully followed our guide and listened on our Whisper-Vox headphones as he pointed out places of interest. I would love to have had time for the Chagall exhibit at the Art Museum but had to satisfy myself with a photo of the banner on the building.

IMG_1609

Fountain outside Kuntsmuseum (Fine Arts Museum) in Basel

IMG_1612

A walk through Old Town

IMG_1620

Old Town Basel

Basler Munster (Basel Cathedral) with its twin spires dominates the skyline and attracts the eye with its red sandstone exterior and colorful tile roof.  Built and rebuilt from 1019-1500 as a Catholic cathedral, the Munster became home to the Swiss Reformed Church in 1529. Renaissance scholar, Erasmus, was entombed here upon his death in 1536. My favorite quote from him, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

IMG_1633

Basel Munster

IMG_1631

Basel Munster with our guide in the lead

IMG_1637

Notice the colorful tiled roof of Basel Munster

The Pfalz, a terrace located behind the cathedral is a favorite among locals and tourists alike for its impressive views overlooking the Rhine. We spent a little time here because one of our group wandered off and we had to wait for him to be found. It turned out he’d returned to the ship.

IMG_1662

Pfalz with a model of the cathedral 

IMG_1654

View from the Pfalz

IMG_1655

View from the Pfalz

Our knowledgeable guide led us a short distance past several museums to a Basilisk Fountain where he informed us about the heraldic animal of the city, the basilisk. You may be familiar with this mythical creature from the Harry Potter books but in case you aren’t, the basilisk is a crested serpent, half rooster, half snake, which can kill with a single glance. The basilisk rests on the top of the monument below but notice another Basel staff beneath it.

IMG_1673

Basilisk Fountain

Version 2

Basilisk and Basel staff

IMG_1680

Jim drinking from the Basilisk Fountain

A little farther on, we arrived at the Rathaus or City Hall in the Marktplatz. I’ve probably said this before but I find the German term Rathaus especially humorous for the place of government. Hearing that 70% of eligible Swiss voters exercise their franchise makes me think, however, the Swiss are good citizens who have confidence in their government. This particular Rathaus was built after the great earthquake in 1356 but it has been restored and added onto through the years.

IMG_1693

the Rathaus is the red building, note the Basel staff on the tower

The frescoes and sculptures that adorn the exterior of the building and the courtyard are splendid and awe-inspiring and we took our time enjoying them. I would love to have seen the interior, especially the Council Chamber and, although the building is open to the public, it’s closed on weekends. Sadly, we were there on Sunday.

IMG_1694

Rathaus

IMG_1708

Rathaus

IMG_1710

Statue of Lucius Munatius Plancus in Rathaus courtyard

IMG_1711

Rathaus

IMG_1712

Murals in the courtyard of the Rathaus

After our visit to the Rathaus, we were given time to explore the Marktplatz but on Sunday most of the shops were closed.  We elected to leave the group and find our way back to the ship on foot. As we made our way, we encountered another of the remaining city gates, St. Johanns-Tor, built shortly after the great earthquake. Today it houses the Police Department.

IMG_1717

St. Johanns-Tor

We enjoyed our time in Basel and I’m sure there are many more sights worthy of exploration but we were setting sail at 8:00 pm for our next port on the Rhine River, Breisach, Germany.

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Train to Basel

Small but bursting with natural alpine beauty and man-made tourist attractions, Switzerland has more to offer than we could possibly cover in one week. Nevertheless, we tried to do as much as possible before our Viking River cruise on the Rhine River and, for the most part, we were successful. Although we didn’t do any hiking in the Alps because of Jim’s back injury, we visited all the towns and attractions on our itinerary. We planned to end our tour of the country at Basel (pronounced Baasel), where we would depart on our cruise on October 29, 2017.

Our final train journey took us from Grindelwald through Bern to Basel in just under 3 hours. As usual, I attempted to capture memories both inside and outside the train with my trusty i-Phone 7 Plus.

IMG_1409

Leaving Grindelwald

Inside the train, we enjoyed the company of three young ladies we had encountered at Jungfraujoch and we watched with delight as they played with a couple of Siberian huskies sharing our ride.

IMG_1419

IMG_1437

Friendly canines

Outside the train, the views were spectacular as always.

IMG_1440

Interlaken, Switzerland

IMG_1456

Interlaken, Switzerland

IMG_1494

Lake Interlaken

IMG_1497

Bern, capital city of Switzerland

When we arrived in Basel, we thought we’d have no problem finding Gaia Hotel, as it was located right outside the SBB train station. This is why I CAN’T EMPHASIZE ENOUGH, know which exit to take from the train station. We searched for over an hour and wandered far afield while asking several people before we found our hotel which was located, as promised, right by the train station.

IMG_1524

Hotel Gaia, Basel

We were relieved to finally arrive and we were very impressed with our accommodations.

IMG_1500

Our room at Hotel Gaia

IMG_1501

Bathroom at Hotel Gaia

And, we were pleased to find our friends, Lori and her daughter, Heather, already happily checked into the hotel. Heather opted to stay at the hotel for the evening but Lori was game to have dinner with Jim and me. We asked the desk clerk for a recommendation for typical Swiss cuisine and she suggested nearby Restaurant Elsbethenstubli. When we arrived at the restaurant at 7:00 p.m., it was packed and the woman who greeted us suggested an appertif across the street while we waited. We gladly obliged and enjoyed our usual glass of red wine while we waited.

IMG_1504

A toast to our cruise

IMG_1502

Lori and Jim at Restaurant Elsbethenstubli

Since I had already tried fondue, I ordered the raclette and Jim ordered rosti, both typical Swiss dishes. Lori had the fondue.

IMG_1509

Raclette

IMG_1508

Rosti

IMG_1513

Lori with fondue

The couple seated beside us struck up a conversation and instructed Lori in the fine art of eating fondue. She learned how to twirl the bread after dipping to ensure the cheese stayed on the bread with no dripping.

IMG_1515

Mike and Sabine

Following dinner, we strolled back to the hotel and relaxed with another glass or two of wine before calling it a night.

The next morning we enjoyed one of the best hotel breakfasts of our trip.

IMG_1521

Dining room at Hotel Gaia

IMG_1520

Breakfast at Hotel Gaia

With tram passes in hand provided by our hotel, we set off down the street to catch the tram to the cruise port for our ship, the Viking Kara. After a short tram ride and another walk, we arrived at the ship.

IMG_1527

Lori, Heather, Jim enroute to ship

IMG_1530

Our arrival at the Viking Kara

IMG_1531.jpg

Viking Kara

We couldn’t get into our cabins yet so we dropped our luggage at the ship and set off on a walk around old town Basel which that will be the subject of my next post. I hope you’ll come back.

Based on events from October 2017.

SaveSave

Categories: cruise, Europe, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jungfrau PostScript

I mentioned in my last post we met a young man on the train back to Grindelwald from the Top of Europe at Jungfraujoch. We struck up a conversation and learned he’s an American living and working in Switzerland for Nestle. He told us in his free time he travels around Europe and especially Switzerland and he enjoys taking lots of photos. He, naturally, was using a good camera while I was using my IPhone 7Plus. When we discovered we could open the top portion of the window on the train, he and I were ecstatic to take photos without window glare. I told him about my travel blog, gave him my business card, and asked him to send me a few of his best photos from our day at the Top of Europe. Here are the photos he sent me. I think they’re exceptional, don’t you?

IMG_2529 copy

IMG_2531 copy

IMG_2537 copy

IMG_2545 copy

IMG_2555 copy

IMG_2565 copy

Thank you, Christian, for sharing your talent on my blog.

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Top of Europe

The Top of Europe at Jungfraujoch in Switzerland isn’t the highest peak in Europe but it is the highest railway station in Europe. Conceived by Swiss industrialist, Adolph Guyer-Zeller in 1893, his idea was to blast a tunnel through the Eiger and Monch mountains and construct a cogwheel railway to the Jungfrau summit. Construction began in 1896 and, after numerous delays and a total cost of 16 million francs, the railway opened in 1912. Sadly, Mr. Guyer-Zeller did not live to see its completion.

IMG_1104

Bust of Adolph Guyer-Zeller at the Top of Europe

Due to the steep grade, the only way to reach Jungfraujoch is by cogwheel or rack rail, a system patented by Swiss engineer, Niklaus Riggenbach in 1863. As you can see in my photo below, the toothed rack rail runs between the tracks allowing a gear wheel on the train to mesh with it.

IMG_0961

Cogwheel track

The station is located at an altitude of 3571 m (11,782 ft) at Jungfraujoch, the saddle between Jungfrau and Monch.  Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch is noted for its Alpine beauty and as home to the longest glacier in Europe.

Trains depart from Grindelwald for Jungfraujoch every half hour for a journey which takes 1 hour and 18 minutes. With our Swiss Half Fare Card, we paid $95 for each round-trip ticket. After an early breakfast at Hotel Alpina, we stored our luggage at the hotel and boarded the train departing at 9:17 a.m. When we saw all the low-hanging clouds, we were concerned our views from the top might be obscured. Those are clouds beneath the mountains in the photos below, not snow!

IMG_1007

Low hanging clouds

IMG_1024

Twenty-three minutes after our departure from Grindelwald, we arrived in Kleine Scheidegg where we changed trains for the final ascent mostly through a tunnel inside the Eiger.

IMG_1030

The station at Kleine Scheidegg

IMG_1254

The station at Kleine Scheidegg

We stopped briefly at the Eismeer Station behind the southeast face of the Eiger to view the Grindelwald-Fiescher Glacier.

IMG_1099

Eismeer Station lookout

IMG_1098

Grindelwald-Fiescher Glacier from Eismeer Station

We arrived at the Top of Europe at 10:37 a.m., early enough to beat the rush at this time of year.  The underground station connects by tunnel to the Jungfrau Panorama, where we stopped first for the brief 360-degree multimedia experience about the Top of Europe.

IMG_1109

Tunnel at Jungfraujoch

After our introduction at Jungfrau Panorama, we were ready to see the real thing. The fastest elevator in Switzerland climbs 108 meters (354 ft) in just 25 seconds to arrive at the Sphinx viewpoint. The views when we reached the top were jaw-dropping.

IMG_1111

View of Aletsch Glacier

IMG_1141

Panorama of the Aletsch Glacier, the Sphinx viewing platform, and the peak of Jungfrau behind

IMG_1131

Sphinx viewing platform

In spite of our winter coats, hats, and gloves, it was so cold and windy on the platform we could only stay outside for a few minutes before we had to go back inside to warm up. Jim had difficulty holding up his Iowa State University banner in the wind for a photo for the #ISUFlag program, an activity that encourages ISU fans to submit photos of the school banner on their travels.

IMG_1169

Jim trying to show his ISU banner

IMG_1167

Mission accomplished

When we saw the board inside showed the current temperature was -7.7 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) with a wind speed of 47 km/h (29 mph), we felt justified seeking views from indoors. The average temperature is -7.9 degrees Celsius so our visit was actually a little warmer than average.

IMG_1178

Temperature and wind speed at Top of Europe

IMG_1154

Jim, pointing to the summit of Jungfrau

IMG_1156

View from Top of Europe

IMG_1186

View from inside the viewing station

The Alpine Sensation opened in 2012 and I would guess it mostly gives tourists something to do if the weather up there is so bad the views are totally obscured. The history of the construction and tribute to the tunnel workers are worthwhile, however.

IMG_1202

Entrance to Alpine Sensation

We skipped the Ice Palace, restaurants, and shopping opportunities and opted instead to return to the station for the next train back to Grindelwald. Due to some confusion with the signs and directions, we missed the next train and had a longer wait than normal but we met a nice group of young people who made the same mistake and had a good visit with them.

On the return journey, one young man we met told us he was from the United States and working in Switzerland. He and I discussed photography and I asked him to send me his best photos of the day to post on my blog. My next post is devoted entirely to his photographs which are amazing so be sure to check back to see them. In the meantime, here are a couple more of my photos from the return trip.

IMG_1276

Return to Grindelwald from Jungfraujoch

IMG_1340

View from the train on the return trip to Grindelwald

When we arrived in Grindelwald, we grabbed our luggage from the hotel and hopped back on the train for Basel, our next destination in Switzerland and the departure point for our Viking River cruise on the Rhine River. Keep following along for lots more adventures.

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Grindelwald Interlude

After our adventure on Mt. Titlis, we left Lucerne to travel by train to Grindelwald in the Jungfrau region. If you’ve been following my blog through Switzerland, it may seem as if we spent most of our time on trains. Believing train travel is the best way to see a country, we spent a lot of time gazing through train windows at the countryside as we traveled comfortably from place to place. Below are a few of the scenes we enjoyed en route from Lucerne to Grindelwald.

IMG_0745

Alpnachstad, Switzerland

IMG_0754

Lake Sarnen, Sachseln, Switzerland

IMG_0802

Giswil, Switzerland

The trees with their shadows in the image below look to me more like a  painting than a photo. I love the colors!

IMG_0818

Lake Brienz

IMG_0827

Lake Brienz from the train

To get to Jungfrau by train, you must connect at Interlaken and many tourists reserve lodging there. Rick Steves, however, recommends lodging in the smaller villages nearby so I reserved two nights at Hotel Alpina in Grindelwald. It turned out his recommendation was Gimmelwald rather than Grindelwald but my reservation was non-refundable so we decided to make the best of my mistake. On the map below, note Interlaken circled in black at the bottom. Grindelwald is up and to the left; Gimmelwald is to the right. Jungfraujoch is at the top of the map and wherever you stay, you have to connect at Kleine Scheidegg to get to the Top of Europe. But more on that next time.

Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 8.31.31 AM

We arrived in Grindelwald around 4:30 in the afternoon. Our first impression was of a typical small ski town, surrounded by mountains and full of chalet-style hotels and high-end ski shops.

IMG_0843

Grindelwald, Switzerland

Although our chalet-style hotel was close to the train station, by the time we trudged up the hill with our luggage in tow, Jim was ready to rest his back. (If you haven’t read about Jim’s back fracture which occurred two days before our departure to Switzerland, be sure to read about it here.)

IMG_0845

Hotel Alpina

We were satisfied with our 3-star accommodations and delighted with the view for $170 per night.

IMG_0852

Hotel Alpina

IMG_0848

The view from our balcony at Hotel Alpina

After resting for awhile, we strolled through the village looking for a restaurant for dinner.

IMG_0864

Grindelwald

IMG_0866

The Eiger

Fortunately, menus are posted outside because we quickly discovered prices were sky high in this village of fewer than 4000 inhabitants. Eventually, we settled on Bebbis where we paid $45 for an average meal that was worth about $25. The other $20 must have been for the view which, admittedly, was superlative.

IMG_0875

Dinner with a view

I ordered the raclette, a traditional Swiss dish of cheese melted over potatoes with pearl onions, pickles, and bacon for $20.50.  Jim had the wiener schnitzel priced at $24.50.

IMG_0882

Raclette

IMG_0883

Wiener schnitzel

Although the decor was definitely kitschy, we got to see an alpenhorn up close for the first time. Historically, the wooden horn was used by cowherds to communicate with one another in the mountains, as well as to call the cows and calm the cows.

IMG_0879

Alphorn

After a leisurely walk back to our hotel and a few twilight photos, we turned in early.

IMG_0887

View of Wetterhorn from the road to our hotel

IMG_0889

Twilight view of the Eiger from our balcony

The following morning dawned with low hanging clouds and rain, weather not conducive to a trip to Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe. That was actually a fortunate turn of events since Jim really needed a day of rest. He had fallen from the ladder and fractured his back just a week previously and we had kept a pretty good pace for the past 5 days. While Jim rested, I explored Grindelwald in the rain doing what I typically do when left to my own devices, I shopped. Or rather, I should say, I looked but didn’t buy because prices were extremely high. For example, the least expensive jacket I saw was priced around $300.

IMG_0913

Hotel Alpina breakfast room

IMG_0897

A rainy view from the breakfast room at Hotel Alpina

IMG_0906

Another view from Grindelwald in the rain

That evening, rather than spending so much on another mediocre meal, we bought local gruyere cheese, olives, wine, and a few other items to enjoy a repast in our hotel room for a fraction of the cost with a priceless view.

IMG_0901

A rainy view from our room

As we rested up, we hoped for suitable weather the next morning for our excursion to Jungfraujoch. After our Grindelwald interlude, or as Jim called it, our Grinderlude, we felt sure we’d be ready for the Top of Europe. Please check back to find out what happened.

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Europe, Food, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Mt. Titlis Adventure

Clear weather is a must for a successful trip with good views from Mt. Titlis and we knew we couldn’t plan ahead with any certainty. So when we awoke on October 26, we were gratified to learn from hotel staff the weather on Mt. Titlis would be suitable for our trip up the mountain.

After an outstanding breakfast at Hotel Waldstatterhof, we set off for the railway station and the 45-minute ride to Engelberg, the village where we would begin our ascent of Mt. Titlis. We watched delightedly as a group of young children with their caretakers boarded the train, sat on the floor while they rode to the next station, and waved goodbye to us when they departed. Notice the knotted rope at the feet of the kids; they all hold onto the rope at a knot to keep a proper distance but stay together as they walk. It’s adorable and safe.

IMG_0412

Breakfast at Hotel Waldstatterhof

IMG_0436

View from the train 

IMG_0421

Swiss kids on the train

IMG_0435

With a population of less than 4000, the Alpine village of Engelberg offers many activities including skiing, hiking, and bicycling. The main attraction, however, is Mt. Titlis, the highest peak in central Switzerland at just over 10,000 ft (3020 m) and the only accessible glacier. When we arrived, we had no idea how to find our way to the cable car station but we soon found a sign that indicated the route.

IMG_0440

Sign showing us which way to go

After a 10 minute walk along a lovely trail with alpine views, we arrived at the cable car valley station. There is also a bus to the cable car station but the walk was pleasant on that sunny clear morning.

IMG_0441

The trail to Titlis cable car station

IMG_0449

Entrance to cable car station

With our SBB Half Fare railcard, we purchased tickets at half price for $46 each at the cable car station. After a brief wait, we boarded the 8 seat cable car for the first leg of the climb to the summit of Mt. Titlis. We knew we were early enough to beat the crowd by the numerous empty spaces in the parking lot and the short line to board the cable car.

IMG_0458

Cable car to Titlis

IMG_0459

View from inside the cable car station

IMG_0473

View from the cable car

IMG_0495

View from our cable car with another car headed down

The views from the cable car were spectacular and in no time, we arrived at the stand station where we boarded the Titlis Rotair, the world’s first rotating cable car, for a standing ride with 360-degree views to the summit.

IMG_0518

Titlis Rotair

IMG_0527

View from inside Titlis Rotair back to the stand station

IMG_0536

View from Titlis Rotair with other tourists

IMG_0538

Another view from Titlis Rotair

When we arrived at the summit station, the view was absolutely breathtaking. As I look at the photos now, it’s still hard to believe we witnessed such dazzling sights.

IMG_0557

View from the Summit Station of Mt. Titlis

After taking in the magnificent panorama, we headed to the Cliff Walk, Europe’s highest suspension bridge with a 500 meter (1640 ft) drop. By chance, I captured this bird soaring in the photo below.

IMG_0576

Titlis Cliff Walk

IMG_0629

Selfie on Cliff Walk with the peak of Mt. Titlis behind us

IMG_0648

Laura on the Cliff Walk

As a recovering acrophobe, I was a little nervous due to the movement of the suspension bridge as I peered into the abyss but the experience was totally worth it. Jim, on the other hand, was fearless and couldn’t get the smile off his face the entire time we were up on the mountain.

IMG_0580

Jim on Mt. Titlis

IMG_0636

Vista from the summit of Mt. Titlis

IMG_0640

View from Mt. Titlis

After extensive oohing and aahing at the scenery, we descended to the 150-meter (492 ft) walkway through Glacier Cave, 20 meters (65 ft) below the surface of Titlis Glacier. With a constant temperature of -1.5 degrees Celsius (29 degrees Fahrenheit), this icy subterranean tunnel contains ice up to 5000 years old.

IMG_0641

The line to enter Glacier Cave

IMG_0671

Inside Glacier Cave

We didn’t ride the Ice Flyer, a chairlift ride with views of the glacier, but I’m sure it would have been thrilling (and a little anxiety-producing), too.

When we finally dragged ourselves away, we took the Titlis Rotair and the cable car back down to the valley station. Another passenger on the cable car kindly offered to get a photo of us which shows just a bit of the scenery surrounding us.

IMG_0698

Cable car ride to the valley

We enjoyed the pastoral scenes framed by mountains as we rode the train back to Lucerne to collect our luggage we left stored at the hotel.

IMG_0730

Scenes from the train

IMG_0740

Swiss countryside

Satisfied with our day’s adventure to Mt. Titlis, we boarded the train again for a nearly three-hour ride to Grindelwald. We would spend the next two nights in Grindelwald to visit nearby Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe. Please join us again for more adventures in Switzerland.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Europe, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

An Afternoon in Lucerne

We departed on October 25 from Chur, Switzerland on the 11:16 am train to Lucerne and arrived at 1:25 pm. The train route headed northwest toward Zurich then turned southwest to Lucerne. Scenes of verdant fields with snow-capped mountains in the distance kept us gazing out the windows the entire trip. Even the towns along the route were captivating with their painted buildings and fall foliage.

IMG_0233

The countryside between Chur and Lucerne

IMG_0239

Town of Walenstadt

IMG_0275

The Swiss countryside from the train

We knew Hotel Waldstatterhof in Lucerne, where we had a reservation, was located right across from the railway station. I wasn’t sure, however, which exit to take out of the station to get us headed in the right direction. It can be quite a long distance to walk all the way around a large train station. (I’ve done this!) Fortunately for us, I got to talking to a friendly, helpful ex-pat American on the train who took us under her wing and didn’t leave us until we found our hotel.

IMG_0293

Hotel Waldstatterhof, Lucerne

Our room wasn’t quite ready when we arrived but Jim needed to rest his back so we sat in the lobby for awhile. When we got to our room, we were pleased with our accommodations.

IMG_0294

IMG_0296

After a brief respite, we took off to explore Lucerne on foot in the warm autumn sunshine. Outside the railway station a short distance from our hotel, we walked through the welcome gate to Lucerne.

IMG_0301

From there, we headed straight for the Chapel Bridge to cross the River Reuss into Old Town. Constructed in 1333 as part of the city’s fortifications, this wooden pedestrian bridge was named for nearby St. Peter’s Chapel.

IMG_0304

IMG_0308

That handsome fellow on the bridge is my husband, Jim

The painted triangular panels in the gables above the walkway depicting Swiss history and legend were added in the 17th century.

IMG_0314

Jim on Chapel Bridge

The adjacent Water Tower, also built around 1300, never held water but rather was used as a prison, a torture chamber, treasury, and archive. Incidentally, it’s Switzerland’s most photographed landmark.

IMG_0306

Water Tower

IMG_0326

Laura in Old Town with the Water Tower, Chapel Bridge, Mt. Pilatus, and Jesuit Church

Without a doubt, Lucerne is all about the lake. Framed by the Alps, Lake Lucerne is the centerpiece of this lovely city, offering boat tours and swimming, or simply a stroll to enjoy the view.

IMG_0374

Lake Lucerne

IMG_0330

View of the mountains that frame Lake Lucerne

After a brief look at the lake, we moved on because we wanted to get to the Lion Monument. On our way, we passed Hof Church, also known as the Church of St. Leodegar, the main Roman Catholic cathedral in the city which was built from 1633-1639.

IMG_0332

Hof Church

IMG_0334

Streetscape on our way to the Lion Monument

The famous “Dying Lion of Lucerne” commemorates the Swiss mercenary soldiers who died in 1792 defending the Tuileries Palace in Paris during the French Revolution. American author, Mark Twain, referred to the monument as “the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world.”

IMG_0341

Selfie in front of the Lion Monument

IMG_0343

Monument and pond

IMG_0345

Close-up of the Dying Lion of Lucerne

IMG_0350

Shop near the Lion Monument

IMG_0355

St. Matthew Church, the first Protestant church in Lucerne

IMG_0356

Unicorn fountain

I especially liked the painted buildings like the one below which we saw throughout the old medieval area. Supposedly, you can tell what the building was used for by their murals but I wasn’t much good at guessing. Maybe you can figure this one out.

IMG_0360

IMG_0367

Old Town Hall (Rathaus) Clock Tower

I always try to research local foods and the beautifully painted building below was my pick to try Swiss fondue. When Jim saw the price was 35€ to dip bread cubes into melted cheese, he objected and we had one of those quick spousal disagreements. Pouting, I taught him a lesson by refusing to eat there once he relented. (You know what I’m talking about, right?)

IMG_0368

Zunfthausrestaurant Pfistern

Instead, we wandered back to Lake Lucerne where we decided against the boat ride since we would soon be on a boat for eight days for a river cruise. We strolled along the lake, we sat and people-watched, and I took many more photos. We especially enjoyed watching the swans and listened to a small child laugh delightedly while a swan ducked into the water.

IMG_0375

Lake Lucerne

 

IMG_0392

Another view of Lake Lucerne with Mt. Pilatus in the background

Although we could have spent much more time exploring Lucerne, we decided to cross the river back to our hotel in search of dinner. Weather permitting, we planned to take the train to Mt. Titlis early the following morning so we wanted to make an early night of it. As it turned out, I did have fondue for dinner… and it didn’t cost 35€. (It was only 22€.)

IMG_0409

Laura enjoying Swiss fondue

IMG_0403

Jim had the special of the day

Mt. Titlis the following day was incredible. Check back to find out more.

 

 

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Europe, Food, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Alpine Views from the Bernina Express

On a scale of 1 to 10 my excitement level for the Bernina Express was a definite 10. We love train travel and the thought of a spectacular four-hour scenic ride from Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy on the highest railway through the Alps negotiating 55 tunnels and 196 bridges thrilled me beyond description. The 122 km route’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site added another dimension to its already abundant appeal.

We decided to purchase round-trip tickets allowing us to enjoy the scenery twice and return to Chur for the night. Not one to leave the pinnacle event of our Swiss adventure to chance, we reserved our seats prior to leaving home, then bought our tickets at the train station the morning of our tour. With our Swiss Half Fare card, 2nd class roundtrip tickets for the two of us totaled $184.

From the moment we departed Chur at 8:32 am, I think it’s safe to say I was the most excited passenger in our railcar if not on the entire train. Fortunately, our railcar wasn’t overly crowded so I was able to flit from side to side in the car without disturbing other passengers.  I’d read the views were best from the right side where we reserved our seats, but I saw so many astounding views on the left, I couldn’t sit still for even a minute. With Jim’s back fracture, he was relieved to just sit in his seat and enjoy the views without exertion for the day. To me, every view was photo-worthy resulting in over 1100 photos, although the vast majority contain major flaws, usually window glare. Warning: I whittled down the photos in this post to 42 so my apologies if you grow weary and give up before the end.

IMG_8709

The Bernina Express at Chur Train Station

IMG_9364

Jim searching for our reserved seats on the Bernina Express

As we left the station, we noticed low hanging clouds in the valleys but plenty of sunshine and blue skies promised excellent views when the sun burned the vapor away. In the meantime, the fog added a mystical quality to our views.

IMG_8724

Alpine view from the Bernina Express

IMG_8847

View from the Bernina Express

IMG_8751

Crossing one of 196 bridges

I’m quite sure I took photos of every hamlet we passed. Each was as charming as this with a church steeple often serving as my focal point.

IMG_8755

One of many Alpine hamlets

IMG_8824

Misty clouds in the valley

IMG_8848

Try as I might, my photos of the spectacular Landwasser Viaduct below and the entrance to the Landwasser Tunnel didn’t do it justice but take my word for it, it was spectacular.

IMG_8875

Landwasser Viaduct and Tunnel

I especially loved the sun illuminating the autumn foliage on the mountainsides.

IMG_8888

IMG_8903

IMG_8904

UNESCO World Heritage recognition

IMG_8910

IMG_8921

IMG_8938

IMG_8952

IMG_8962

IMG_8968

IMG_8977

IMG_8986

IMG_9005

I don’t know the people in the photo below, but I wanted to show how the windows provided both panoramic views and challenges to work around when taking photographs from the train.

IMG_9060

View of Morteratsch Glacier from the Bernina Express

As we approached The Bernina Pass, the highest elevation of our ride at 2253 m (7392 ft) Lake Bianco came into view. Many hikers enjoy the easy scenic trails in this area, especially the trail from Ospizio Bernina to Alp Grum along the lake. I would love to go back and take this hike sometime.

IMG_9099

IMG_9125

Hikers on the trail to Alp Grum

IMG_9131

Lago Bianco

We stopped at Alp Grum and took the requisite selfie to prove we were here.

IMG_9180

IMG_9322

The Bernina Express route ends at Tirano, Italy. The brochure claims there are “swaying palms” at the terminus which we did not see but we nevertheless enjoyed the temperate climate and the views from this village of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants. After a short stroll, we settled in at a cafe with outdoor seating and a view for some real Italian pizza and a glass of vino.

IMG_9350

IMG_9356

IMG_9361

We departed from Tirano for the return trip to Chur at 2:25 pm and arrived at 6:20 pm. Although we’d been this way before, it was nearly as spectacular on the return trip and I attempted to capture the shots which escaped me earlier in the day.

IMG_9394

IMG_9428IMG_9437IMG_9459IMG_9489IMG_9593

IMG_9779

Morteratsch Glacier

IMG_9811

IMG_9816

IMG_9936

IMG_9960

I truly thought this train journey would be the highlight of our Swiss adventure but it turned out to be just one of many highlights. Please check back for more as we travel next to Lucerne.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Europe, Italy, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Chur: Gateway to the Bernina Express

Chur (KOOR), with a population just under 33,000, is the oldest town in Switzerland and the gateway to the Bernina Express. Those features alone made it an easy choice as our base for 2 nights while its well-preserved pedestrian-only Old Town added abundant charm and history.

We arrived late in the afternoon after a 2-hour train ride from Zurich with our first impressive albeit rainy views of the Swiss countryside.

IMG_8607

Swiss countryside from the train

 

IMG_8619

View of the Swiss countryside

 

We wandered around the winding streets of Old Town a bit before we found the Ambiente Hotel Freieck. It looks easier on the map below than it actually was. (We didn’t have the map when we arrived either.)

IMG_0016

Map of Chur, Switzerland

IMG_8668

Ambiente Hotel Freieck

We were pleased with our accommodations at this three-star hotel as well as the location,  and the breakfast buffet was amazing. If you follow my blog, you’ve probably read previously that we like to eat a big breakfast followed by a protein bar or something similar for lunch, then go out in the evening for a nice dinner. We always try to find a hotel that provides breakfast so we have to buy just one meal a day.  Including breakfast, taxes, and fees, we paid $178 per night at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck which I thought was a fair price in an expensive area.

IMG_8669

Lobby at Ambiente Hotel Freieck

IMG_8635

The view from our hotel room

IMG_8632

Beds at Ambiente Hotel Freieck

IMG_8633

Shower in our hotel room

After Jim rested his back for a bit, we searched out a local restaurant for dinner. It was still raining so we didn’t dawdle in spite of our umbrellas. We found Cafe Arcas on a lovely square by the same name in the heart of Old Town where I looked longingly at the outdoor seating.

IMG_8644

Arcas

IMG_8651

Cafe Arcas, Chur

We were early and only one other table in the small cafe was occupied. After asking about local dishes, we selected homemade spinatpizokel and spatzli, both specialties from the canton of Grisons where Chur is located. (Grisons is French; the German name of the canton is Graubunden.) The spinatpizokel was a spinach pasta with air-dried ham, local beef, and sausage. The spatzli was a pasta with cheese (Swiss mac and cheese, if you will). Some of you know I normally shun gluten but I wanted to try local dishes so I made an exception in this case. We shared the two dishes and left pleasantly full in spite of resisting the homemade desserts which, I admit, looked delicious.

IMG_8649

Spinatpizokel

IMG_8648

Spatzli

IMG_8650

Homemade desserts

Following dinner, we ambled along the winding streets of Old Town enjoying the sights.

IMG_8655

 

IMG_8661

St. Martin’s Church

IMG_8658

IMG_8659

In spite of pain medication, Jim had a terrible night. Like a beetle on his back, it was almost impossible for him to get up once he was prone. He wore his back brace to bed to try to sleep on his side but that was largely unsuccessful. He was most comfortable on his back but he snores on his back which meant I was awake whenever he slept. It was almost a relief when morning broke. At least the scrumptious breakfast made getting up worthwhile.

IMG_8672

Breakfast buffet

IMG_8673

Breakfast buffet

IMG_8674

Breakfast buffet

IMG_8675

A hearty breakfast built to last

The Bernina Express departed at 8:32 a.m. so, following our breakfast, we hurried to the train station. As we passed the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) Administration Building, I couldn’t resist a quick photo of this impressive edifice.

IMG_8679

Rhaetian Railway Administration Building

Incidentally, if you, like me as a child, loved the book, Heidi, you’ll be interested to know the setting for this classic was just 19.6 km (12 miles) away from Chur near the town of Maienfeld.  Although the village of Dorfli in the book is fictional, another village has been renamed Heididorf and contains a Heidi museum and other attractions based on the novel. We didn’t have enough time to check it out but the information brought back a favorite childhood memory.

Join me next time on the famous Bernina Express for a scenic journey through the Swiss Alps.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Europe, Food, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Zurich from the Bus

Our flight arrived in Zurich at 6:20 a.m. In spite of Jim’s spine fracture (which you can read about here), he slept better than usual on the overnight flight, probably due to medication. We easily found the SBB Travel Center at the airport where we could purchase train tickets from a machine or at a ticket counter. Around the corner, however, was the service center and I went in to discuss our ticket options for the week. I told the representative where we planned to go and she told me our best option was to purchase the Swiss Half Fare Card for $120 per person which confirmed my previous research. With this pass, we would receive a 50% discount on train, bus, boat, city and mountain transport for one month.  Tickets purchased, we proceeded to the platform for the train into the city center.

We had planned a self-guided walking tour of Old Town Zurich but Jim was sore and moving so slowly we decided to look for a bus tour instead. Since we were greeted in Zurich by dreary skies and intermittent rain, that appealed to me anyway. When we arrived at the Zurich Main Rail Station (Zurich HB), we stowed our luggage in a rental locker then went in search of Tourist Information. With the help of TI staff, we selected a 2 hour Gray Line Classic Trolley bus tour of the city beginning at 9:45 a.m. for $34 each.

IMG_8411

Locker to store luggage at Zurich Main Train Station

IMG_8463

Gray Line Classic Trolley Tour

On the bus tour, I first encountered the problem that would plague me on buses and trains throughout this trip. It was nearly impossible to take a decent photo through the windows due to the reflection.

IMG_8414

Swiss National Museum

IMG_8429

Attractive storefront

The bus stopped for about 15 minutes at Lake Zurich. Tired and sore, Jim stayed on the bus while I scurried off to get a few photos of the lake surrounded by gloomy skies but without window reflection.

IMG_8446

Lake Zurich with lion statue

IMG_8454

Lake Zurich with fountain

IMG_8460

Lion statue overlooking Lake Zurich

IMG_8473

Bull Tamer Fountain from the bus

We stopped again near Munsterhof, the town square, which was close to three main churches: Fraumunster, St. Peter Church, and Grossmunster. Jim stayed onboard again while I explored on my own.

IMG_8490

Munsterhof

While I didn’t have time to see the interior of any of these churches, I was again grateful to get photos from outside the bus. Fraumunster Cathedral is home to the famous Marc Chagall stained glass windows which you can see by clicking on this link. St. Peter Church, dating from the 8th century, is the oldest church in Zurich and the face on its clock tower is reputed to be the largest in Europe. Grossmunster was built around 1100 but legend has it the current building replaced a cathedral built by Charlemagne on the spot where Felix and Regula, brothers and patron saints of Zurich were buried.

IMG_8476

The clock tower at Fraumunster Cathedral, home of Chagall windows, with St. Pater Clocktower behind

IMG_8485

Grossmunster

Scenes along the Limmat River in Old Town were among my favorites. Built in 1694, the Rathaus (Town Hall) perches over the river in Old Town surrounded by other Renaissance and much older medieval buildings. Normally, we would have visited all of these places on our walking tour but, under the circumstances, I was happy to see the exteriors and hear the commentary on the bus.

IMG_8486

Limmat River with Rathaus (Town Hall) on the left

IMG_8496

St. Peter Church clock tower

IMG_8504

Limmat River in Old Town

IMG_8512

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology

IMG_8545

Schauspielhaus (Theater)

IMG_8550

Limmat River

IMG_8556

View from the bus

IMG_8571

Main Train Station

The bus tour also took us through some newer sections of the city but frankly, I wasn’t especially interested in the financial district. Following the tour, Jim was really in pain and exhausted. He encouraged me to walk around Old Town to my heart’s content while he waited at the train station. Worried about him, I went as far as the Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s famous and expensive street lined with exclusive shops, took a photo, then hurried back.

IMG_8573

Bahnhofstrasse

On my way back to the train station, I couldn’t help but stop for one last photo of Old Town and the Limmat River. I think it turned out to be my best photo of Zurich.

IMG_8575

Old Town Zurich

We’d seen an abbreviated version of the sights on my list for Zurich and we were ready to take the train to Chur, check into our hotel, and let Jim rest.

As we headed to our platform, I took this photo in the train station of a market called Migros. I would later learn the ubiquitous Swiss grocery store is the largest employer and the largest supermarket chain in Switzerland and one of the largest retailers in the world.

IMG_8579

Check back for more stories about Switzerland. It seemed like every day was better than the day before in terms of both the scenery and Jim’s ability to get around.

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Europe, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: