Yes, I’ve been in Switzerland for six months, and I’ve had Rösti and Raclette, but I hadn’t had cheese fondue yet. While tourists eat it here year round, the Swiss eat it only in the winter, so it was high time that I got around to it before spring gets here. And, of course, since Lynn and I were in Gruyères, we thought that was a perfect place to have this traditional food. We wandered the town center (that took about 10 minutes) and read the various menus, but ended up choosing the restaurant with the best view. One can make fondue with various kinds of cheese, Gruyère (without the s, if referring to the cheese) being one of the main ones. Since the waitress did not speak much English (and thank goodness Lynn speaks a little French), I didn’t ask what kinds of cheese were in our bubbling pot, but I strongly suspect it was local. The two things we had to dip into this gooey deliciousness were traditional – bread and potatoes. We could not finish it all – if we’d had a friend along we could have gotten to the very bottom. Apparently if you eat all of the melted cheese and get to the very bottom, you can scrape out the thin crust at the bottom (called the nun) and enjoy the end of the pot.
One of Lynn’s requests was to see a castle. She didn’t think she’d ever been to a real one, and since Switzerland is chock full of castles, I thought this would be an easy feat. Think again. In the winter, many castles here are closed. After much internet research, and at the last minute, we decided to head to Château de Gruyères in the Canton of Fribourg. We had one more of the Tageskarten to go anywhere in the country for two people in one day. Now was the time to use it. It takes about 2.5 hours to get to this tiny, tiny town. First a train, then a bus, then a 7-minute train. You step off the last train (which comes through the town once an hour – in either direction) and look up the hill to the medieval town which is still contained within its original walls. The walk up the hill takes about 10 minutes.
You walk through the town entrance in grand style.
The town seems to exist purely for tourism with many little shops, and plenty of restaurants. Even on this cloudy winter day there were a number of people milling about with cameras. We passed by the outside of the HR Giger Museum. The reviews I read suggested that I may not particularly enjoy it (even if many others did), so we skipped right on by and headed to the castle. Lynn was particularly happy to visit the castle which reminded me in some ways of Château de Chillon, and in some ways is quite different. Here is the main courtyard. Many of the walls still maintain their original artwork (although it may be restored, I don’t know).
Some of the rooms are decorated in the 19th C. style.
Several of the rooms had some beautiful tapestries.
Some of the rooms had some modern art, some of it quite strange.
I am sure that the gardens are quite lovely in the summer. They are still fun to look at in the snow, too.
More odd art.
Although these sundials are now under a roof, they were once able to help tell the time on sunny days.
The little chapel outside.
Since we decided not to go to Basel for Fasnacht, a day opened up and we chose to go sledging. That’s sledding. Or tobogganing.
The SBB helped us out a lot with this great 50% offer which included transportation to and from the Zürich HB as well as the sled rental.
Turns out this place has what is purported to be the longest sledge run in Switzerland – 12 km downhill. We were IN.
When we reached the tiny, tiny town of Fideris, we were met by the company (after having made a call in the morning to reserve a spot) and jumped in a van with a group of school kids who were going either snowboarding or skiing. They were pretty well behaved, and when their teacher started talking to them, they all stopped to listen.
We rode the 12 km from there to the top of the hill (and I tried not to look over the side at the scary parts), and when we arrived, we picked up our sledges and decided to eat our picnic lunch before heading down. We had heard that it takes about an hour to go the distance.
Here is a view of the chalets at the top. There are ski runs on either side.
We were also told that traffic does not go up or down the hill between 13.00 and 16.00. Yup, we were going to slide really, really fast down the same road the van brought us up in, going around the same hairpin turns, and trying to stay on the road and not fly off of the side.
At first we thought we weren’t going to go too fast, but once I got a little push, we were off and sailing through the winter day. Here Lynn is just getting started at the top.
There’s not much of a way to steer or brake, except with your legs and feet, and there are piles of snow on the sides to “cushion” a stop.
At one point, I had a little spill, and when I stood up to dust myself off, this is what I saw. My sledge going down, down, the hill. Follow the tracks on the right down to the fence.
Then see the guy at the bottom of the hill who graciously found a way down to retrieve my sledge. Thanks, honey!
We did have to stop a number of times for several reasons. We would get separated, so we wanted to make sure we were close enough to each other. Also, the vans actually DID go up and down the hill between 13.00 and 16.00, so we had to get out of their way on occasion.
So, this was LOTS OF FUN! There was shrieking. There was laughter. There were spills. There was desperate trying not to fly over the edge of the road. And the next day there were some pretty sore spots on arms and legs. But it was so worth it. Those metal strips on the bottom of the runners make you go really fast.
At the bottom of the run, we came back into the cute town.
We followed the signs that said Schlitten Rückgabe to return our rented sledges, where no one even came to check that we were the people who had borrowed them at the top. We just left them there and got directions to the Post Bus to take us back to the train station.
It also occurred to us that we did not sign a waver to say we would not sue in case of accident. That just isn’t done here in this country. If you hurt yourself, it’s your own fault. Besides, everyone has mandatory health insurance. Which we did not need to use.
I am well aware that Ash Wednesday was last week, and that in most of the world, Carnival, Mardi Gras or what have you was before Ash Wednesday. For some reason, some places in Switzerland have their party after Lent has started. Today is the last day of a three-day extravaganza in Basel, for example.
In Switzerland the craziness is called Fasnacht, in parts of Germany and in Austria it is Fasching.
My friend, Lynn, is visiting from California and wanted to go to Basel for part of the celebration/craziness. It was on our list of things to do, but on Sunday we opted to see the Zürich parade since it was right here in our own backyard.
As we were wandering the city, we saw people all dressed up for the parade.
The band called The Lady Killers was warming up and playing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” as they worked their way to the start of the parade.
We were early enough to get a prime spot up high to watch the colorful goings-on. We looked up to see people had congregated on the plaza by the Grossmuenster and went up to join them.
This turned out to be quite advantageous for two reasons. The first is that it was a good view for the beginning of the parade. The second was that we saved ourselves from being covered in confetti. This was our view about 20 minutes before the parade started. A fair number of people were lining up to watch already. It would get much more full very soon.
The costumes were of such a variety – from hags and furry animals, to people in traditional dress.
There were so many marching bands, each one separated from the other by only one group of costumed people so that the sounds would “blend” together.
One guy was throwing out red clown noses (but not up to where we were).
The paraders would sometimes grab a child and swing them around, or carry them across the street before returning them to their place. This group was throwing hay around, then grabbing people and stuffing them into the wagon filled with hay. We were safe.
The last third of the parade was devoted to people from Peru and Bolivia. What dancing! What music!
By the end of the parade we were pretty cold, so we took off a little early. When we checked the weather report for Basel, we decided that we were happy to have seen Fasnacht right here, and that we didn’t need to travel to see another one, and that we could do other things with our sightseeing time.
After six months here, I finally decided that I should try out the Swiss soft drink, Rivella. I’ve seen people drinking it, so I looked it up before I plopped down my 1.5 CHF. It’s produced from milk whey.
That didn’t stop me from trying it, although I did wonder what the heck milk whey and carbonation would do when combined. It actually tasted a little like a Sprite or 7 Up. So, I probably won’t choose to buy another one since I am not a big soft drink consumer, but if someone handed me one, I wouldn’t make a face.
Even though the forecast was for rain, we took our chances and caught the train to Stein am Rhein, a town that is purported to be “painfully picturesque”. I thought, “sure, another cute medieval town on a body of water.”
Actually, I think this IS the cutest town we’ve seen so far. The train station is on the other side of the Rhein from the old town, just a 5-minute walk across the bridge.
You can’t miss walking directly into the main town square with the most charming painted buildings from the 1500s and later.
It was like an open-air art museum with each fresco demanding a closer look.
We had read that you should pet the dog statue for good luck, so we did.
We pet the cat, too, just in case.
Above the town sits the Burg Hohenklingen, a castle, and since we saw no busses going up the hill, we trudged up for a view over the city and the river. The castle isn’t open until next month, so we satisfied ourselves with a walk around the perimeter before heading back down.
The cloister of St. George (also closed for the winter) honors, you guessed it, St. George of dragon fame. I saw evidence of this saint on this wall as well as the man hole covers.
Time to say good-bye, and maybe we’ll come back sometime when we need a dose of infuriating impossible cuteness.
In honor of it being Sunday, I will write about ShopVille. In general, shopping is verboten on Sundays in Switzerland (and other Europen countries). Some restaurants are open, but if you run out of milk or bread, you are out of luck.
Not really. In actuality, if you can make it to the HB where there exists a giant 180-store subterranean shopping mall under the train station called ShopVille, you can get your bread and milk and much more. This place is open every day of the year and most stores are open until 20.00 or 21.00.
I can’t say we actually go to ShopVille on Sundays, though. We have gotten into the groove of getting our groceries on Saturday (which can be a total zoo), but we are glad that it’s open whenever we return from somewhere on a Sunday and know we need some basic food supplies.
The tricky part (for me) is knowing just where to come out of the nether regions to get where I want to go above ground, although I am getting better at it. H has it down, though, and he’s good about gently nudging me in the right direction.