Posts Tagged With: Switzerland

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.

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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.

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Friendly canines

Outside the train, the views were spectacular as always.

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Interlaken, Switzerland

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Interlaken, Switzerland

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Lake Interlaken

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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.

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Hotel Gaia, Basel

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

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Our room at Hotel Gaia

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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.

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A toast to our cruise

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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.

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Raclette

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Rosti

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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.

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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.

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Dining room at Hotel Gaia

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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.

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Lori, Heather, Jim enroute to ship

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Our arrival at the Viking Kara

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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.

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

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: , , , , , , , , , | 10 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.

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The Bernina Express at Chur Train Station

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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.

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Alpine view from the Bernina Express

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View from the Bernina Express

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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.

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One of many Alpine hamlets

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Misty clouds in the valley

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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.

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Landwasser Viaduct and Tunnel

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

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UNESCO World Heritage recognition

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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.

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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.

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Hikers on the trail to Alp Grum

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Lago Bianco

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

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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.

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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.

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Morteratsch Glacier

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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.

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Swiss countryside from the train

 

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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.)

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Map of Chur, Switzerland

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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.

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Lobby at Ambiente Hotel Freieck

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The view from our hotel room

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Beds at Ambiente Hotel Freieck

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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.

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Arcas

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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.

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Spinatpizokel

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Spatzli

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Homemade desserts

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

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St. Martin’s Church

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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.

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Breakfast buffet

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Breakfast buffet

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Breakfast buffet

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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.

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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.

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Locker to store luggage at Zurich Main Train Station

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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.

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Swiss National Museum

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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.

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Lake Zurich with lion statue

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Lake Zurich with fountain

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Lion statue overlooking Lake Zurich

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Limmat River with Rathaus (Town Hall) on the left

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St. Peter Church clock tower

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Limmat River in Old Town

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Swiss Federal Institute of Technology

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Schauspielhaus (Theater)

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Limmat River

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View from the bus

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

 

 

 

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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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