Limmat Swim

IMG_6734Last year the Limmat Swim in Zürich was cancelled due to cold weather, so we never got to see it. This year, the hottest summer since 2003, has made swimming the rivers and lakes in Switzerland quite popular, and the 51st Limmatschwimmen was on.

This photo comes from the Samichlaus Schwimmen that we did get to see last December when the water was significantly colder than last August. It doesn’t make much sense to me that last year’s summer swim was canceled when people will swim in much colder water.

Anyway, I happily scrolled through these photos of this year’s swim. If we were there, I might have joined the 4,500 people enjoying the waters, or I might have just been one on the sidelines taking photos. In either case, I would have been there. I hope to be at this event some day.

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Thanks to New in Zurich for covering this event.

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Bern

So, I’m still suffering jetlag and getting our house back into order – trying to remember where we put things in storage that we absolutely must have (like my library card!), so please forgive me if I have pre-written this post while still in Zürich.

We planned to have all the major IMG_2006cleaning and packing finished a day early, just to be sure we didn’t forget anything and to give us some wiggle room. When all went according to plan, we had an extra half day to play around with and we chose to go to Bern, Switzerland’s capital. I’ve been there twice, once in November for the onion festival and once in February for dinner during our blitz tour, but I really wanted to be able to wander the city at leisure.

We followed the Rick Steves walking tour to see the main sights, but I would like to return to the city to find more of the hidden gems someday. Throughout the walk we saw a number of these kinds of fountains, Bern’s signature style. The colors bring life to the surrounding buildings of gray stones.

The creepy one is of an ogre eating children. No one seems to have an official explanation of this, but maybe it was intended to scare children off of the city walls.

The streets of Bern are fairly wide and look very different than any other Swiss town with covered arcades for shopping. I think it rains a lot in Bern (but it didn’t on Thursday!). There are also shops below ground level, accessible by old-time hatches that look like the cellar door that Dorothy can’t open in The Wizard of Oz.

Parliament tours in English are on some Saturdays, so we just admired the building from the outside.

Like many old cities, Bern would not be complete without a clock tower. In Berner German it is called the Zyteglogge Turm. Dating from around 1530, there is a little, tiny show at four minutes before the hour. The jester moves, Father Time turns the hourglass, some bears march around the bottom, and then at the hour, the golden man strikes the hour. Rick Steves says “Apparently this nonevent was considered quite entertaining five centuries ago.” I would say that “Apparently many people still find this nonevent quite entertaining.” There was quite a crowd when we just happened to arrive a few minutes before the show.

Einstein lived in Bern from 1903 to 1905, and his apartment is now a museum. This is where he lived when he came up with Theory of Special Relativity while working at the Patent Office.

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The Berner Münster dominates the skyline of this city which is on a hill that is a peninsula sticking into the Aare River. Over the main doorway is this particularly detailed version of Judgment Day. I read in the Lonely Planet guide that the mayor of Zürich is on his way down on the right side, while Bern’s Bürgermeister is going in the opposite direction on the right.

At the end of the self-guided walk, you come to the famous Bear Pit / Bear Park where Bern’s three bears live. But not today. They are renovating the space, so the bears are in an animal park in Jura for the time being. Oh, well.

From this NY Times article about favorite streets in European cities, we took the author’s advice and strolled up past the Bear Pit on Grosser Muristalden for this perfect overlook of the city.

Such a lovely city.

Having a Beer in Solothurn

The original weekend plan was to find IMG_1397a hike from this new website I have found – BierWandern. This site lists (in German) over 120 hikes in Switzerland ending up at places which brew their own beer or serve local brew. Unfortunately, there is no overall map, but after I read through as many as I could, I realized that there weren’t any hikes in Canton Jura (plenty near Zürich which must be tried, and soon!), so I did the next best thing.

I planned the Doubs River walk and then looked for a place to have a beer in Solothurn, the capital city of the Canton of Solothurn. You guessed it. We needed to add that one to our list, and it’s not far from Jura.

I’m sure there are cities and towns in Switzerland that do not have an historic center, but we tend not to go there. We traversed back across the Röstigraben, to where we can sort of understand the language, to Solothurn. It is on the Aare River which also runs through the capital Bern. To help us whet our thirst, we wandered the city first, admiring the various fountains,

the 12th C Clock Tower (Zeitglockenturm)

the church (which we could not go in since there was a big wedding taking place)

and the river.

Trip Advisor recommended that we have a beer at Barock Cafe and Bar, and as we walked up to the café, a table outside, in the shade, with a view of the river opened up, and we snatched it up right away.

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We give high praise to our time here. The waitress was very friendly (a Swiss plus), the beer, Öufi, was local and delicious, reminding us of Pomona Queen back home. The weather was lovely, the people-watching fun, and then, when the time came to settle our bill, we discovered that each beer was only 4.5 CHF. Unheard of, glampers.

Canton Solothurn. Check. Three cantons to go….

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…

Roman Ruins – Augusta Raurica

Okay, glampers – all together now…. “Those Romans….They were everywhere!”

Here at Augusta Raurica, the Rhein River the Roman Empire reached its northern boundaries, pushing up against the Germanic tribes around 300 AD. Many ruins from this Roman city (now in Kaiseraugst) sit side-by-side with the current town buildings. This city wall abuts a local school.

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It was our lucky day since the northern section of the Roman settlement lies in Aargau, a canton we have gone through on the train many times, but have never set foot in before. Also in this northern section are some preserved Roman baths and one of the oldest churches in Switzerland. It’s now a Catholic church, St. Gallus, and we spent a little while watching the stork on the top of the building in its huge nest.

Roman Baths

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View of the Rhein River from the Roman Baths

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The other part of our lucky day was to add the canton Basel-Landschaft with the southern section of Roman ruins. This part of the settlement was the main part with a huge amphitheater, forum, well-house, and more.

While we were there, we watched some local activity where kids were running relays and throwing eggs into baskets of straw. Most of them made it in, but we saw one splat.

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Kafkaesque

One of the benefits I get from traveling is that I learn things that stick with me. These are things that I should probably already know, but have not set up shop in my mind. For example, my understanding of European geography is getting better, knowing the relative position of various countries and cities. Central Europe is now coming into clearer focus for me.

What did I know about the writer Franz Kafka before our trip to Prague? I knew he wrote stories in German, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read one of the most famous ones, The Metamorphoses. Maybe I read The Trial, too, but that would have been in high school, so I don’t remember. I know that his otherworldly landscapes gave rise to the phrase Kafkaesque, a phrase which I have been known to use.

What I learned: Kafka was born in Prague. He wrote in German because his parents were German-speaking Jews and sent him to German schools.

This plaque graces the location of the building where he was born.

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This statue is the official monument to the writer. The image comes from his story Description of a Struggle.

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Although I can’t really imagine what the Kafka Museum would hold, I later read reviews that said it was very good, so here is at least one reason to return to Prague someday.

Post-trip led me to this Kafka quote, “The first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die.”

Which parallels nicely for me into another event we witnessed during our trip. Yes, again we saw people swimming in the frigid waters of a river. We just happened upon this while wandering the city streets, and I had to marvel, once again, at people who do this.

IMG_7290 IMG_7291 IMG_7292 IMG_7295 IMG_7296 IMG_7300There are more pictures, close up, here. For more information about the swim and its history, you can read here. My friend Judy can read here for a list of more of these kinds of events.

Kafkaesque, indeed.

Christmas Vacation

Apparently we were not the only people who thought that spending Christmas vacation in Prague and Budapest would be a good idea. I think I read somewhere that 50,000-60,000 tourists head to Prague for the holidays. Even though that number is smaller than during the summer months, there were still crowded streets at every turn.

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People waiting for the clock to chime the hour in Prague Old Town Square.

At first we had thought we might go someplace warm for ten days, but winter warm in Greece or Italy is still not very warm, and it was not in our thoughts to go a long way since we did not want to fly. After a little internet research, and googling Europe for Christmas, I settled upon Prague, and a little more planning and thinking gave us the idea to add Budapest to our itinerary. Both cities were near the top of our list for this year, anyway, so this seemed a good time to go.

Neither of us had been in either place before. We were thrilled to visit two new countries.

The two cities have some similarities. Both have a wide river running right through the middle which require some lovely bridges.

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The Charles Bridge over the Vltava River in Prague. The German name for the River is the Moldau.

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The bridge in the foreground is the Chain Bridge in Budapest which crosses the Danube. The German word for Danube is Danube. (Okay, the German name for Danube is really Donau.)

Both cities have a hill on one side of the river (complete with church and castle) which is not only picturesque to look at from below, but affords great views over each city.

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Prague

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Budapest

Both cities are quite European in that they have lots of statues, great architecture, lots of churches, and plenty of museums. Other than that, they are both completely different.