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…

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What I Will Miss, Part Three: Trains! Trams!

IMG_5622Every time we climb on a train at the HB (usually with a cup of coffee in hand), I sit down with a happy feeling. It means we are off to an adventure somewhere. I love listening to the SBB announcement, especially if we are on an IC train (the faster ones). The nice lady welcomes us, wishes us a pleasant journey before inviting us to treat ourselves to a culinary break in the SBB restaurant in the middle of the train.

Here is a very short youtube video of this voice that will always take me to a happy place.

Sometimes I bring along a book to read while we peacefully glide through the countryside, but often I want to look out the window, so I put on my earbuds and listen to some NPR podcasts so I can appreciate the views.

IMG_5316The trams might seem confusing at times in Zürich since there are so many lines going so many places, but I have ridden them enough that I even know what part of the tram I should sit/stand in so that when I reach my destination I have a smoother exit. For example, if we are coming home on the 5 or 6, we ride up near the driver so that when we get off the tram, we can walk directly in front of the driver to cross the street while the doors close and we don’t make the driver wait for us, and we don’t have to wait for the tram to leave before we head up the street.

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I also know, if there is an accident, how to figure out an alternative route. I can give advice to people on the street when asked. I know three different permutations on how to get to orchestra, and I know that after a certain time the 6 tram shortens its route.

If only LA could have this kind of infrastructure.

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What I look forward to: Yes, driving a car is still fun, too!

Glass Blowing in Hergiswil

At this point in our year, some of our weekend IMG_1168plans involve figuring out how to get to the remaining cantons we have not yet visited. First we look at the weather report. Saturday was supposed to have some severe thunderstorms in many places with at least some regular showers, too.

Looking for a good indoor activity, I stumbled upon the Glasi Hergiswil in the canton of Nidwalden. Their website showed that there is an SBB Railaway Deal which includes transport, admission, and the chance to blow a glass ball (under supervision) to keep as a souvenir.

A visit to the Glassworks involves several activities. The first requires an understanding of German, or a willingness to look at things and not understand what is being said. After you enter the museum, you wait for the door to open and go in with a group of people to a dark room where certain things are illuminated and you start hearing a voice telling you the history of glass making. The small herd of people then moves from room to room following the light and learning more about the history of glass making in Hergiswil. At least we think this is what was happening. We understood some of it, but if you want specific details, you’ll have to ask someone else.

After the introduction, you spill out onto a viewing platform above the glass factory floor where about 12-15 men are blowing glass. We probably spent a good 15-20 minutes just watching them, as they have quite a rhythm going for each item they make.

Also housed on the platform is the place where visitors may blow their own glass ball. Our Railaway ticket included this little extra, so we waited in line, watching other people to see what it entailed. If so inclined, we could pay an additional 5 CHF to have a photo and a youtube video made, but we thought we would shoot our own photos. This video is of one of the girls who went just before we did.

You could choose if you wanted a ball with striations or just plain, and we chose one of each. The friendly professional did the lion’s share of the work, sticking the glass in the furnace, rolling it, scoring it, etc. and when it was your turn, you got to puff into the tube about three times. At one point he kept telling me to do something, and I could not understand it until H told me that I was supposed to hold the tube with my hands. Ah.

Then he showed it to you to see if you approved (isch guet!) and then put it aside for at least 20 minutes before you could pick it up. After we got home, I read the instructions, and it said (in English) that because these don’t cool the best way, they may break within a month or a year, or maybe not. So we’ll see if these even get packed to go to the US.

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Tomorrow: More Fun at the Glasi

Trains and Automobiles

In over eight months since we’ve been here, we have gotten used to the freedom of not owning a car. This is easy to do since the Swiss transportation system is fabulous. You can get to the remotest parts of the country on trains, trams, busses, gondolas, funiculars, boats and also by hiking and biking. We have gotten used to not having to pay for repairs, gas, insurance and parking. Oh, yes, I think there is a yearly sticker you have to buy if you want to drive on the Swiss Autobahn. We had an advert in the post box yesterday offering a parking place for 230 CHF / month. I don’t even want to think about the cost of insuring a car. And I especially don’t want to think about driving one in Zürich. I’ve read too many stories about tickets, and the streets bewilder me. Then, to find a parking place in the city would probably have me swearing. We have not been in a traffic jam this year, either.

This past weekend, though, we enjoyed the freedom of driving a car for the first time in over eight months! (Although we first took the train to Basel and then into Lörrach, Germany.) Once across the border, we rented a Skoda Octavia (a diesel car made in the Czech Republic). No need to wait for a train, or a bus, or a tram. We drove through lovely roads in the Schwarzwald (Germany’s Black Forest) and saw scenery we would have missed from the train. With all that space, we could just throw our stuff into the back seat or the very back of the car and not have to keep it so tidy all the time. H drove the Autobahn and lived to tell the tale.

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A Swiss Spring Sunday

A drizzly Saturday morning with the promise of a sunny and warm Sunday found us scouring the internet for what to do with that good weather. Pair that up with wanting to visit the remaining seven cantons on our list, we came across the SBB Top Offer for riding the train to Murten (on Lake Neuchâtel) and renting e-bikes for 50% off. If we played our cards right, we could stop in Neuchâtel (in the canton of the same name) and in Solothurn (also in it’s canton of the same name) and bring our list down to five.

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Everything was going swimmingly (it’s always a good day when we get on a train) until we changed trains in Biel-Bienne and the conductor looked at our tickets and said that we might have a problem. It seems that when you buy a special ticket with the SBB, they dictate which route to take. We were supposed to change in Olten and go through Bern. Whoops. We were in the French part of the country, but the conductor supposed we spoke German since we had come from Zürich. He sat down next to me and asked if we were from Holland (based on our last name). I said, “Nein, aus America.” “Oh, you speak English!”

Apparently all he had to do was to print out another ticket for each of us basically just rerouted us through our chosen way, and he said we needed to spend no more money. He punched in information on his hand-held device, and two tickets came out, and by that time we had to change to our final train to Murten.

Our Changement de Parcours

Our Changement de Parcours 

Those Swiss, they love their own ways of doing things!

At the Murten station we passed a group of people playing the bagpipes (are they in a club, I wonder?) and found the bike rental place next door. Those Swiss – so efficient!

However, we walked right by the sign that said we were supposed to confirm our bike rentals in the train station before we could pick up our bikes, so we had to wait to be told that by a nice young man. We walked back over to the station, exchanged our printed tickets for a different set of tickets. Again with those Swiss ways of doing things!

Now we could start. After a five-minute lesson on how to use the electrical assist on the bikes, a good look at the map, and another five minutes to adjust the height of the seats and handlebars, we headed off for our circular loop.

With most things closed down on Sundays in Switzerland (and I’m sure this is true of most European countries), this is the day that everyone is out and about relaxing and having fun.

We knew we were in Switzerland:

Straight paths through the woods

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Agriculture

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Cute farmhouses

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Clear signage

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Sweet signs saying to be tolerant of all modes of transportation

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Castles

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Boardwalk through the marsh

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People eating outdoors in restaurants

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Cute towns

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Winter preparedness or Forest maintenance

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Goats!

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Cows! We haven’t seen much livestock until recently when everyone has come out of the barns.

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Pretty bridge

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After we ate our picnic lunch we decided to take the shortcut back since we knew it would be longer than the 50 km we had thought it would be. One great thing about our bikes was this attachment that told us how far we had gone, how fast we were going, and how much charge was left on the battery.

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Even though you still must pedal the bike, going up hills is such a breeze with the electric assist. There weren’t very many hills on our trip, but for the few we rode up, we appreciated the help. We rode 64 km. So, glampers, quick – how many miles was that? *

I was ready to be done by the time we pulled into the bike shop, but we still had 40 minutes until our train came, so we wandered Murten. ANOTHER cute Swiss town. Really, how many can there be?

Our whole journey had us straddling the Röstigraben and riding through the cantons of Fribourg, Neuchâtel and Bern, hearing French and German (plus one family speaking Spanish), so we knew we were definitely in Switzerland.

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We probably could have gone back the way we did and had another conversation with the Kontrol about our tickets so we could stop in Solothurn, but I was so tired that we decided we should just save that canton for another trip.

Six to go!

* 39.76 miles – I think this is the farthest I have ever ridden in one trip.

Underway to Venice

We hadn’t been out of the country for the entire month of February. Time to remedy that with a long weekend trip to Venice. The last time we were in Italy was 2009 for a 10-day spring break trip. We have been eager to return ever since.

Riding the trains in Italy is an exercise in releasing the tightly-would Swiss spring for on-time train travel that has taken up residence in my psyche. Leaving Zürich on time, we arrived in Milan Central about 5 minutes late, still leaving plenty of time to catch our connecting train (conveniently located one track over), cutting our layover from 30 to 25 minutes. Which then turned into a 40-minute layover, nonetheless.

Once aboard the all-Italy train (still an SBB – Swiss – train), the seats that we had so carefully reserved (106 and 107) were not next to each other, but one on window and the other an aisle seat one row up. We decided to choose two seats next to each other yet one more row forward which said that they were not reserved.

Leaving the Zürich HB, the train announcements came in German, then Italian, then English. Apparently, there is no need for French unless you are traveling past the Röstigraben. Once over the border, French is added back in as a 3rd of 4 languages. By the time the announcements get to English, we pretty much know what’s being said, but we double-check to make sure.

In good Italian fashion, the journey stretched the 2 ½ hours into a 3 ½ . That gave us plenty of time to listen to the Germans in front of us, one with a cello, converse about Facebook, Swiss German and music. The cellist gave his best accent of a French-speaking conductor discussing Brahms in English. And then the three gentlemen disembarked in Verona.

IMG_4811The spring unwound a little more as I listened to the lovely melodic Italian, spoken with much more emotion than what I’ve been used to for the past months. Oh, yes, and some laughter and smiles. We texted our AirBnB host to let him know we would be an hour late. I would hate to make someone wait that long. Later that night it did not make any difference that our train had been delayed.

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Fork & Bottle

Through the American Women’s Club, I had heard about the restaurant called Fork & Bottle, and when we wanted to meet some friends for a beer, they suggested we go there (since it is open on Sundays).

It’s not particularly far from our house, but the tram does not go by there, so we got to ride the S-Train (a commuter train) about 4 stops (6 minutes) from the HB.

It’s next to the Allmend parks which we had not yet seen, but if we had a dog, or if we were runners, we might have found this place early on. You can see that the snow from yesterday stuck to the hills, but not in the valley.

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Next to the restaurant we saw these ponies and goats.

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I’m sure this is a great place to sit outside in warmer weather, but we were glad that there were plenty of inside tables available (although we only needed one).

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Knowing that the owner is American, I was not surprised to be greeted with a hello (not a Greutzi, mittenand) and an easy swing into English. The beer list is extensive, though most are bottled artisanal beers from all over the world, including a few local micro brews. Although you could buy some of these beers in Drinks of the World in Shopville for under $4, to have them served to you cold, in a glass (by very accommodating and friendly staff) will set you back over $10 a bottle. Now that’s a lot of ambiance!