Posts Tagged With: Swiss train travel

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.

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Breakfast at Hotel Waldstatterhof

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View from the train 

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Swiss kids on the train

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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.

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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.

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The trail to Titlis cable car station

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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.

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Cable car to Titlis

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View from inside the cable car station

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View from the cable car

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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.

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Titlis Rotair

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View from inside Titlis Rotair back to the stand station

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View from Titlis Rotair with other tourists

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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.

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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.

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Titlis Cliff Walk

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

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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.

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Jim on Mt. Titlis

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Vista from the summit of Mt. Titlis

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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.

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The line to enter Glacier Cave

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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.

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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.

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Scenes from the train

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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.

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The countryside between Chur and Lucerne

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Town of Walenstadt

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Water Tower

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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.

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Lake Lucerne

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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.

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Hof Church

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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.”

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Selfie in front of the Lion Monument

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Monument and pond

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Close-up of the Dying Lion of Lucerne

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Shop near the Lion Monument

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St. Matthew Church, the first Protestant church in Lucerne

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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.

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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?)

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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.

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Lake Lucerne

 

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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€.)

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Laura enjoying Swiss fondue

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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

The Best Laid Plans for the Swiss Alps

We enjoyed our first Viking River Cruise in October 2016 so much we were eager to go again. In April 2017 when I saw an affordable Rhine cruise sailing that October from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, we booked it. We’d never been to Switzerland and this was a great opportunity to visit a new country. As I began my research, I quickly learned two things. First, Switzerland is expensive and second, a week wasn’t enough time to see everything in this small country. Thing one, however, limited us to one week. After all, we still had the 8-day river cruise and a couple extra days in Amsterdam afterward.

Part of what made this trip with Viking a good deal was their offer of free airfare. Upon checking, I discovered we could request an “air deviation” for $100 per person. With the air deviation, we extended our trip to depart a week early and return two days later and flew into Zurich instead of Basel. We would fly to Zurich on October 22, board the ship October 29, arrive in Amsterdam November 5, and fly home on November 7.

With the dates for our journey established, I began planning in earnest starting with an online search of the top sights in Switzerland. There were so many I really didn’t know where to begin. I’d heard of the Bernina Express, a scenic rail trip through the Swiss Alps which I thought maybe a good place to start. My research, however, introduced me to another route further south, the Glacier Express, which appealed to me, too. As it turned out, the Glacier Express was closed from mid-October until mid-December and the Bernina Express was closed from the end of October until mid-December. I was so relieved to find one of them open during our visit that I actually built our trip around the Bernina Express.

We decided early on we would travel by train. My brother and his wife had recently driven through Switzerland in a rental car. Their tales of adventure convinced me my anxious personality wasn’t suited to riding by car in the mountains or the cities. The train was a better choice for us. That said, deciphering the rail system in Switzerland was a challenge, to say the least. I spent days poring over the various options and comparing the cost of rail tickets with no pass, with a Swiss Travel Pass, Swiss Travel Pass Flex, and Swiss Half Fare Card. A special offer for a second person to travel for free only added to the confusion. Three websites were especially helpful: the official Swiss Federal Railways, Seat61, and My Swiss Alps. In the end, I only purchased a reservation for the Bernina Express in advance. A rail ticket will get you on the train for the Bernina Express route but you must reserve a seat in advance for the observation car. All other tickets could be purchased on-site with no difference in price so I held off but I was quite certain the Swiss Half Fare card was our best option.

We considered purchasing day trips out of Zurich or Lucerne with various tour companies to the popular tourist sights. Both the price and the time it took to travel out and back discouraged that plan. Besides, we generally prefer to do our own thing rather than be herded with a group on someone else’s schedule.

I reserved hotels in advance for every night. Traveling by train, I didn’t want to arrive in a city and not find a room for the night. I selected hotels based on location, price, and reviews. Since we would be dragging our luggage, I preferred a hotel close to the train station but I also wanted a reasonable price with good customer reviews.

This was our itinerary:

Day 1. Arrive in Zurich at 6:20 a.m. and take the train from the airport into the city. Store our luggage in lockers in the train station and take a self-guided walking tour of the old city which would get us to all the highlights. After seeing Zurich, take the train to Chur (pronounced Koor) (2 hours). Overnight in Chur at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck.

Day 2. We had reserved seats on the Bernina Express departing from Chur at 8:32 a.m. for a scenic 4-hour journey through the Alps. Rather than carry our luggage, we decided to take the train back to Chur to spend a second night.

Day 3. After an early breakfast, we would take the train to Lucerne, which takes about 3 hours. We planned to see Lucerne on foot and spend the night at Waldstaetterhof Swiss Quality Hotel right across from the rail station.

Day 4. We would leave our luggage at the hotel while we took a boat to Pilatus or the train to Titlis, depending on the weather. When we returned we would take the train to Grindelwald (2.5 hours) where I reserved a room at Hotel Alpina.

Day 5. We planned to take the train up to Jungfraujoch, then spend another night at Hotel Alpina.

Day 6. Take the train to Basel (3-3.5 hours) to meet our friends Lori and Heather at the Gaia Hotel before our cruise the following day.

Day 7. Board the Viking Kara for our cruise on the Rhine River.

You can see our planned route highlighted in yellow below.

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It was an ambitious plan but still didn’t allow visits to the Matterhorn, Geneva, and many other highly recommended sights in Switzerland. As events unfolded, we were lucky not to have committed to more. Be sure to check back to read how these best-laid plans went awry.

 

Based on events from April to October 2017.

 

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

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