Why We MUST Return to Switzerland

One always thinks there will be IMG_4024time for things, and in the end, there is not quite enough time. I feel as though we did not squander time this year and saw an amazing amount of sights and cities and natural beauty, but as we went along, our list of must-sees kept growing. Like Sisyphys with that rock.

If we do come back to Zürich for our next sabbatical, I think I would like to spend more time in the German-speaking parts of Europe and explore them in more depth. We hardly touched Austria, and I would love to spend much more time there. We only really saw Munich, Berlin and a bit of the Black Forest in Germany (and we can’t forget Wuppertal!).

Here is the beginning of my list for what I would like to see in Switzerland that we did not get to this year. This list is not exhaustive!

In Zürich

Helmhaus and Wasserkirche

The rubber duck race on the Limmat River

Thermal Baths

More museums (after we’ve recovered from this year of museums)

Other museums outside of Zürich

Tinguely in Basel

Technorama in Wintertur

Transportation Museum in Luzern

Rozengart Collection in Luzern

Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern

Excursions

The Schilthorn and the Jungfraujoch. I am embarrassed to say we did not see these this year. We saw them from below, but we MUST get to the top!

The Glacier Express, or other classic train travel.

Outdoors

Aletsch Glacier. Read about the adventures of the Two Small Potatoes there.

Lugano and Locarno in Ticino

Klangweg – a hiking trail with musical instruments along the way

Klöntal Valley

Mt. Pilatus

That seems a good start to a list, no?

Rigi: The Queen of the Mountains

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.18.39 PMOn a clear day in Zürich, here on the Swiss Plateau, we can see the northern end of the Pre-Alps. (Before we moved here I had assumed that the entire country was Alpine. Now I know better). I’d thought about going up to Mt. Rigi on many occasions, but it helps to have good weather at the right time, and those two things came together on Sunday. It also helps to have an impending deadline, like moving away.

One can reach Rigi Kulm (the high pointIMG_1954 with the tv tower), from two sides. We chose the Classic Round Trip from Luzern which starts on a boat. We had gotten up early enough to take the first trip starting at 8:15 (leaving Zürich at 7:00) when lines aren’t quite as long. From the Viznau port, we jumped on the Vitznau-Rigi Bahn, the highest standard gauge railroad in Europe, built in the late 1800s.

IMG_1999Soon we were standing almost at 5900 ft. with magnificent views over Lake Lucerne (known here at the Four Forest States Lake – Vierwaldstättersee) and Lake Zug. Clouds were swirling around a bit, but soon cleared for a complete view. We could also see Mt. Pilatus, another place on our to-see list.

After a stop for coffee (of course there’s a hotel and restaurant at the top, this IS Switzerland!) overlooking the Swiss Plateau and towards the Alps, we took a short hike down to the next train station, enjoying more views and seeing more cows.

The train took us down to Rigi Kaltbad which is a resort area. Despite its name as Cold Bath, it appears to have hot tubs. From Kaltbad we caught the Cable Car (Luft Seilbahn) down to Weggis where we caught another boat back to Luzern. Along the lake were many steam ships, and our captain took the time to tell us about each one we passed.

I will go back to Rigi some day and do more hiking since there are 120 km of trails.

Appenzell: Inner and Outer

Time is getting away from us, and ourIMG_1722 must-see list in Switzerland is longer than we have days. However, we are getting very, very close to our goal of visiting every one of the 26 cantons.

I’m sure we would have gone to Appenzell sooner than July, but when we had time, the weather was often rainy. The other issue is that Appenzell is divided into two cantons – Inner and Outer, the split coming about during the Reformation when it was divided between Reformed and Catholic.

All the tourist stuff is in Inner Appenzell (the town itself with all the cute cheese and traditional museums), but with the weather so nice, we chose to take probably the most popular hike in the area.

Appenzell is considered the country bumpkin region and the butt of jokes, maybe because women did not get to vote on local issues until the 1990s.

The fun begins with the cable car lift up to Ebenalp, the highest peak in Appenzellerland. As you near the top, you can see the cave that the hike goes through, and suddenly, you are at the top.

A steep, but not too difficult hike down leads to the cave in about 10 minutes. After walking through the cave, you emerge on the other side at a hut and the Wildkirchli (little wild church) where hermit monks lived from 1658 to 1853.

IMG_1705After 5 minutes of looking and picture-taking, round the corner to this view of the Berggasthaus Aescher. This 170-year-old guesthouse has primitive rooms to rent and traditional Swiss fare in the restaurant. As you can imagine on a perfect Saturday in July, there were few places available to sit, so we chose the last two seats inside. I had a view through the windows of the mountains. H had a view of the side of the mountain which doubled as the restaurant wall.

Refueled for the rest of the afternoon, we headed towards Seealpsee (Lake Alp-sea?) by heading down, down, down. The switchbacks proved challenging as they were extremely rocky and uneven and quite steep. Thankfully we were headed downhill and not up (we passed many hikers, though, sturdier than me) and we were mostly in the shade.

If you have small kids, you are advised to put them on a leash….

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For the very first time this year, I used the hiking pole that I purchased especially for this year. I had not used it yet, partly because it seems that one must have TWO hiking poles in Switzerland. However, I was very glad to have my one pole with me for this tricky descent.

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A common site in Switzerland.

A good 45-50 minutes of this, and we reached the paved road that led to the lake past many cows. On the side of the mountain, by the road, and even in the lake.

One can walk around the entire lake in about 45-minutes, listening to more cowbells, seeing little restaurants and places to buy cheese and milk, and seeing more beautiful scenery and people building fires for picnics.

The remainder of the hike, though paved, is a quite steep descent, and even downhill presented its challenges. By the time we reached the train station, we had come 7.4 km (about 4.6 miles) at a 2500 ft. elevation loss. My quads were sore for several days.

For specific details about the this hike, please see this post on Moms : Tots : Zürich which is a fabulous blog about places to go in Switzerland (good information for kids of all ages).

What about Outer Appenzell, I hear you asking. On the way home we got off the train in the main city of that canton, Herisau, knowing that the next train would be by in about 30 minutes. We stepped into the convenience store and bought Mövenpick ice cream bars, enjoying our moment in the canton.

Only Canton Uri remains!

Wandering the Doubs River in the Jura

IMG_1315Another weekend, another canton to visit. Rain forecast in the east of the country, so a trip to Appenzell was out. The rain chance in the Jura was slim, and an easy hike along a river with an adorable medieval town seemed a perfect jaunt. Add to that a special deal on an SBB Day Pass, and we were off, leaving a gray Zürich behind.

Jura, the newest Swiss canton (formed in 1979), contains some of the Jura mountain range which straddles Switzerland and France. It sits on the French-speaking side of the Röstigraben, and the term Jurassic comes from the Jura mountains.

We showed our train tickets to the controller in that canton, and he was quite confused since they were printed in English. He asked if we spoke English or German (I said both) and he wanted to know where we were from. I told him America, but he asked if we lived in Switzerland. Upon confirmation, I explained that the tickets were Tageskarten (Day Passes), and that seemed to clear up his confusion. H told me to stop being a problem for the nice people of the SBB…

Despite this, we managed to make it to St. Ursanne, a small medieval village on the Doubs River. After walking through the town, we found the stone bridge I’d seen in photos and proceeded to follow the Wanderweg along the river. My plan was to walk for a ways, maybe an hour or so, eat our picnic, then head back into town to catch a train.

Along this part of the river one can walk on a very level path for about 15 km to the town of Soubey, one leg of the Trans-Swiss Trail.

We could hardly call this hiking as part of the path was paved, and we never gained any elevation, but we were happy to be along the beautiful river, seeing fields, woods, meadows, hills, cows, and occasional farm houses and some campgrounds.

After we returned home, I looked at the map again and realized that we did not go the way that I had planned, but had gone the exact opposite way along the river. We would never have reached Soubey that way, and we would have crossed over into France.

So, I get an A+ in planning a lovely walk and a lesser grade in map-reading. Or, lack of map-reading. But it didn’t really matter since we never got lost. Plus, we got to add Canton Jura to our list! Four cantons to go…

Wandering In the City Forest

Hiking in German is called wandern. IMG_1083Even if you are climbing up a mountain.

When I joined the American Women’s Club last fall, one of the activities listed was a hiking group, so I immediately signed up. Then I found out that the woman in charge of the hikes had quit, and no one had taken her place. I think I would have been happy to organize such a group if only I had any idea at all of where to go.

Now someone has come to lead us on such excursions, and we went on our first club Wanderung Thursday in perfect weather. One lovely thing about this city of Zürich is that you can take public transportation within city limits and be out in the woods in minutes.

Eight of us with two dogs went to the top of Zürichberg (the hill where we live) and headed straight into the woods, passing the Zoo, the FIFA practice fields, a restaurant (always a restaurant on the trail), an observation tower, a stone elephant statue, kids swimming in the stream, people grilling out and picnicking, and people riding horses.

We stopped at noon for our own picnics (minus the grilling part) and at the end for a coffee at a restaurant before heading our separate ways home on the trams. The woman with the fitbit said that we went 6.5 miles, but with so much socializing along the way, it felt about half that long.

Trümmelbach Falls

One of our daughter’s favorite things about Swiss hiking is how easy it is to take a gondola or cogwheel train up to the high places, walk on relative flat trails, and return easily to our starting place. Zipping easily down the mountain one morning, we donned our rain gear and walked along the valley floor to Trümmelbach Falls. Last September we had missed these casades that tumble down inside the mountain, and we weren’t going to miss them this time.

As people who absolutely love National Parks, we are struck with some similarities between the Lauterbrunnen Valley and the Yosemite Valley in terms of the beauty. The differences are equally striking. As we wandered the path towards the falls, we were passing farm after farm with agriculture as well as animals. We ask ourselves if the people who live here day after day, year after year, consider this just normal, when clearly, it is extraordinary. We didn’t knock on any doors to find out, so we’ll just have to keep wondering.

The Falls are not only a work of natural art, but also an engineering feat. Tourists first take a funicular up into about the middle of the ten cascades before being disgorged into the middle of the mountain.

We particularly enjoyed the banter with the funicular operator who inquired as to the main language of people in the lift. He explained that he would not, for example, switch to French if only two people requested it. Most people in our group spoke English, but I opened my mouth and said that I could speak High German, but not Swiss German. He immediately started saying something in Swiss German to us which sounded like – Oh, so it’s the High German you want, eh? Then I counted to five for him in Swiss and he said, I think, “So you speak Walliser Deutsch, eh?” This is the Swiss dialect that every other part of the country agrees is incomprehensible. Even though the laugh was at our expense, we were happy to understand the joke and to laugh along.

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Back to the Falls. Even though we were in from the rain, a waterfall is not a place you would consider dry, so our rain gear came in double handy. We walked up wet steps, we peeked out of little balconies, and were amazed and impressed by the sheer amount of water and its speed as it came crashing down through the mountain.

Visiting in Zürich

IMG_5627Over a year ago we discussed plans to have our children visit us in Europe. We asked what the best time would be, and what country/countries they might like to see. We made plans, ordered plane tickets, and then waited. It seems hardly possible, but the time is finally here for oldest daughter and son-in-law to arrive in Switzerland!

First stop, Zürich, mostly to have a place to recover from jetlag, but also to show off the city that has become our second home. I love any excuse to wander the Old Town, the Niederdorf and to walk along the lake. As we were walking, I noticed details on buildings I had never before seen.

Umbrella Factory?

Umbrella Factory?

It’s also fun to see what people notice about life in Europe that we have grown accustomed to, and our kids are amazed at how we cross streets at zebra crossings, just walking out in front of cars and knowing that they will slow down (and stop) for pedestrians.

The beauty of the paper money has been noted. The fact that many doors open automatically is fun. The particular style of fixtures, keys, and toilets have been seen.

One must-do for many Zürich visitors is to take the Panorama Trail on Uetliberg. We haven’t been on that hike since the first week we were in Zürich, so it was time to return. With all the rain we’ve been having, it was very green. The views were a little cloudy, but did not dampen our spirits.