The Beauty of Switzerland on Instagram

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I came across this post on Newly Swissed yesterday which highlights 13 Instagram Feeds featuring stunning photos of Switzerland. Immediately I went to their feeds and started following them so that I can 1) remember the natural beauty of Switzerland 2) get ideas about where we should go when we return.

Even if you don’t have an Instagram account, I think you can click on each group of photos to see the feed.

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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.

Ballenberg Freilichtmuseum

Nestled into 163 acres of Alp beauty, IMG_1835Ballenberg Freilichtsmuseum immerses visitors into an ultimate Swiss experience. If you love the chalets, mountains, cows (and their bells!), flower boxes, cheese, and history of this country, this is your place.

Each living history museum I’ve been to has a slightly different take on making their history come alive. Plimoth Plantation recreates an exact replica of the community with actors playing roles of specific historical characters. Ballenberg reminded me more of Old Sturbridge Village where historic buildings have been moved from their original locations to the museum for preservation and education. Ballenberg buildings are just a few hundred years older than the Massachusetts museum (and Ballenberg is also a few dollars less expensive and quite a bit less expensive than Plimoth).

This being the height of the summer tourist season, the trains towards Interlaken are filled with tourists (many from Asian countries), but once my friend Wendy and I arrived at this gem of a place, we heard mostly Swiss German from our fellow visitors. Since we had gotten our tickets online through yet another SBB deal, we thought we would not need to stop at the counter, and that someone would collect our tickets as we entered the museum, but we saw no such entrance place as we walked past the first building.

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After about 15 minutes, we noticed that people were wearing stickers with the date on them, and at first we thought they were with a tour group. But no, we saw that everyone was wearing a sticker. Even though no one had stopped us, we thought it best to return to the front desk and show our tickets. With our stickers now in place, we felt legal.

We arrived just after opening at 10:15 (at the East entrance) and spent a happy five hours wandering, watching demonstrations, eating lunch and tasting cheese, peeking in buildings, and admiring the scenery.

We watched weaving and rope-making demonstrations and wandered through the pottery shop.

The cheese-making demo helped us choose the Alp Macaroni (with potatoes and onions with a side dish of applesauce) for lunch. Many of the houses had tables set in a traditional way.

The basket weaver was my favorite guy (loved his mustache!) and the hat maker was on break, as was the wood carver and the lace maker.

No one was at the bone crushers place, and we didn’t linger too long there….

The water wheel powered the huge saw which was cutting planks and was very impressive. I’m sure the silk ribbon machine was also amazing in action.

Lovely Swiss animals.

Bells and horns

And just stunning scenery that I have not yet taken for granted.

What I Will Miss, Part Two: The Beauty

I asked the Two Small Potatoes if they have seen an ugly part of Switzerland yet, and they agreed with me – we haven’t found one! Even though we live in a city, we love the view from our windows over the church spires to the hills and the lake. The buildings are beautiful.

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Photo credit: my daughter

IMG_4503 IMG_4649Then there’s the countryside which can be quite spectacular, all within an easy day trip.

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What I will not miss: The endless gray winter skies

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.

Berner Oberland

IMG_5635Because the Lauterbrunnen Valley is one of our very favorite places in Switzerland, we knew we wanted to take our kids there during their visit. What we did not fully realize is that it is still winter in the mountains, even late in May. So, back in February we booked a Swiss Chalet AirBnB in Mürren, undeterred by the photos showcasing the house in a cozy blanket of snow.

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A week before our scheduled trip to the mountains, we watched the forecast with worried brows and hoped that the 90% chance of predicted rain or snow might change, at least somewhat, before our arrival. It didn’t, and we decided that we might just have a fabulous time anyway.

Mürren sits up high on a ridge overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley, and we remember a beautiful view of the mountains just across the way with craggy peaks and waterfalls. The first day we saw a gray wall of clouds and big, soft snowflakes. What we did enjoy seeing was the completely comfortable and beautiful chalet that was ours for three nights. It’s fairly new construction, so everything was clean and worked very well.

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We did not have a deck of cards with us, so we found a game that four of us could play on phones and iPads called Space Team which involved a lot of (quiet) shouting and shaking our devices in order to avoid asteroids and wormholes. For a free game, we liked it pretty much. Team Up!

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As the hours and days rolled by, the clouds lifted and we marveled at the beautiful mountains which appeared through our windows. We took advantage of a break in the rain (no longer snow) to stroll down to Gimmelwald and took some pictures of spring breaking through from winter.

By the time we left, we could see the top of the mountain across from our chalet. It was worth the wait!

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Canton Schwyz – Schwyz and Swiss History

I am still trying to wrap my head around the history of this beautiful little country. Maybe it’s because I learned US history in school, but the story of the US founding seems fairly straightforward to me.

From what I have been able to understand about the very beginning of Switzerland is this. In 1291 three Forest Districts (now cantons) banded together to protect themselves from a Habsburg attack (as Rudolph I had just died). They signed a pledge to Everlasting League of Mutual Defense. These districts were Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden. (Unterwalden is now divided into Obwalden and Nidwalden.)

This founding document, along with many others, are available for viewing at the Bundesbriefmuseum in the town of Schwyz (the “capital” city of the canton of Schwyz). It’s  what happened after 1291 that seems very complicated to me.

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They obviously do not allow photography of the documents in the museum, but here is photo of the brochure you can pick up in the lobby.

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The first room of the museum very clearly sets out to talk about the mythology of the founding of this country. Studies have been done to see if this document is actually the real document, and carbon dating suggests that it is probably from the correct time frame. Whether this document is indeed real or not, the mythology of how Switzerland began as a collection of independent-minded group of people is what is important for national identity and pride.

The second room has many, many documents which look similar to this one, with one, or many seals attached, and each one completely illegible to me. Each original document sets forth the joining together and conflicts of the Old Swiss Confederacy.

In the US National Archives millions of people each year stream by original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. One must go through a metal detector and then wait in line until you get your 15 seconds to look at each document. On Saturday we were the only people in the whole Museum of the Swiss Charters of Confederation, so we took our time reading the parts that were of most interest to us (this museum gets good marks in my book for having everything available in English).

The name of the country derives from this Canton (if you couldn’t guess that already), and the flag with the white cross on the red background comes from the Schwyz coat of arms.

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We had 25 minutes to wait for our bus, so we wandered the old town and took these photos.

I picked up a brochure with a map for hiking trails in this region, because, as you see from these photos, this is a beautiful part of the country. I would like to come back for a panorama hike when the weather is warmer.