Posts Tagged With: Switzerland

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

Broke Back Mountain Meets the Swiss Alps

When my husband, Jim, announced he was cleaning the roof of our two-story house two days before we were scheduled to leave for Switzerland, I responded, “That’s not a good idea,” which turned out to be a monumental understatement. I told him I’d be gone all day at Pilates, a hair appointment, lunch with a friend, and shopping. “No problem,” he said, “I’ll get Brian to help me with the ladder if I need him.” Our neighbor, Brian, also had other plans that day.

When I got a text from my stylist to tell me she was running late, I decided to stop at home for a quick shower after Pilates. As I was getting into the shower, my phone rang. In a dazed voice, Jim said, “Where are you? I don’t know what happened.” Buck naked, I ran to the window, looked out, and saw him lying on his back under the tree. WTF? Grabbing a robe, I raced outside.

After successfully cleaning debris from the roof, Jim decided to attack a branch that annoyed him on the Russian olive tree. The ladder apparently rotated and he fell 12-14 feet (3-4 meters), knocking himself out. Fortunately, he had his cell phone in his pocket which he used to call me. And fortunately, I was unexpectedly at home.

We argued for the next half hour about whether I should call an ambulance. When I tried to help him up, he howled in pain, and begged, “Just give me a couple more minutes.” We repeated this dance of suffering at least four times while in between, I texted my stylist to cancel my appointment and went into the house to get dressed. My patience finally ran out and I took charge and called 911.

A police officer who Jim knows was first on the scene and they chatted, Jim flat on his back, while we waited for the ambulance. Jim insisted he was fine; he could move his fingers and toes, arms and legs; he just couldn’t get up. That didn’t sound fine to me.

The ambulance transported him to the hospital and I followed in the car, calling my friend, Lori, to cancel lunch. After a long wait in the Emergency Room, lots of drugs, a cat scan, and sincere apologies for ruining our trip, we learned Jim fractured his T12 vertebra. He was moved to a hospital room for overnight observation and I called our two sons to inform them.

That evening our son, Brian; his wife, Abi; and our son, Michael, arrived to visit Dad in crisis. That’s when Michael dubbed him Broke Back Mountain and the name stuck. Jim, of course, joked if he’d known it would be so easy to get them home, he’d have fallen off a ladder sooner.

IMG_8402All joking aside, we discussed our trip while we waited for the neurosurgeon to tell us whether Jim could travel. We had planned to travel to Switzerland for a week, then join my friend, Lori and her daughter for an 8 day Viking River Cruise on the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands. I told Jim we had several options. We could cancel, I could go alone and meet up with our friends, I could delay the trip and travel with them, or we could go together if the doctor allowed it. My one condition was I didn’t want Jim to go and complain the entire time that I made him go and he was miserable.

IMG_8403

Jim sporting his $1800 back brace

Since the fracture was stable, the neurosurgeon, Dr. David Beck, pronounced Jim fit to travel with restrictions. Jim was game to go well-armed with an industrial strength back brace and pain medication. We would slow our usual break-neck pace (no pun intended), I would manage the luggage for both of us, keep track of Jim’s meds, and make sure he followed doctor’s orders.

I immediately called the airline to arrange for a wheelchair to meet us in Chicago. It was a little complicated because we had two partner airlines to deal with, but it was a godsend because Jim was moving so slowly at that point. We checked our bags through to Zurich, a new experience for committed carry-on luggage only travelers. When the airline announced they would first board people who needed extra time on the jetway, we looked at each other and chortled in unison, “That’s us!”

IMG_8408

Smiles because we were first to board (and heavy meds for Jim)

Please check back for more tales from Broke Back Mountain as we travel through Switzerland, Germany, France, and the Netherlands.

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 5 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.

IMG_0006

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.

 

SaveSave

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

%d bloggers like this: