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.


Crossing to Asia

Maps have always fascinated me, but the very best way for me to really learn geography is to visit some place new. A small part of Turkey lies in Europe, while the bulk of the country, what has been known as Asia Minor, resides in Asia. Istanbul, while not the capital of the country, sits strategically astride the border of two continents, the border being the Bosphorus Strait. This important passageway connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean (through the Marmara Sea) and is the only way for ships from Russia to reach warmer waters. We saw many container ships waiting to traverse the Bosphorus every day.

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Two bridges cross the water, but the fun way to reach the next continent is by boat. The original plan was to take a cruise on Thursday, but the weather prediction was more favorable on Wednesday, and we had sunshine the entire day.

We boarded our private boat and headed north hugging the European side, gaining a small sense of the enormity of this city of 17 million people.

After we reached the second bridge, the boat reversed field and motored down the Asian side until we reached Kadiköy, a modern commercial and residential district.

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Here Yaren led us to a restaurant where we enjoyed eating a variety of delicious dishes family style. I cannot tell you the names of the dishes we ate, but eggplant was certainly involved (a major food of Turkey).

After stuffing ourselves, we wandered the open air market as a group, and then we received an assignment. On our own, we had 45 minutes to make some purchases at the market (or in the stores) in this neighborhood to share at the evening’s happy hour. It was the tour’s way of urging us interact with the locals, using our best hand gestures and practicing saying thank you in Turkish.

We bought chocolates from this shop, and then at the olive stall, we asked the gentleman for 200 g of two kinds of olives, but he just scooped one scooperful of each kind and we think it was closer to double what we asked for. That was okay. They were pretty tasty.

IMG_9557 IMG_9579The ferry ride back to Europe only took 15 minutes, a ride that 1.5 million commuters take each day.

I could not help but give a tip to this adorable girl who could play an actual tune on her accordion. I hope someday she gets a real instrument.