DAY 101: BEGGING FOR CHANGE IN ZURICH


Designer labels, $20 burgers and 2 hungry Aussie travellers….

Ok, so the rest of Switzerland was expensive, but Zurich is STUPIDLY expensive. Like 110CHF (about $120AUD) PER PERSON for dinner expensive. This town is all designer labels and silver service restaurants; and with our well-worn, unironed attire, it was very obvious we ain’t from around here! Everyone we saw on our walk around the city today was impeccably dressed and looked like their shoes alone were worth more than all our possessions combined. Given how well off everyone seems to be, and how expensive everything is in this town, we almost resorted to pan-handling for people’s spare change so we could afford a decent lunch! 

 

Hungry but happy in Zurich.

 

Zurich often ranks #2 on the list of “World’s Most Expensive Cities”, just behind Oslo and ahead of Tokyo and Geneva. With a Big Mac costing around 13CHF ($15 AUD), this is one costly town. We knew this coming here and had budgeted accordingly, but it’s still a bit of a shock when 2 coffees and a couple of ham and cheese toasted sandwiches sets you back 28CHF ($32AUD). Ah well, that’s the price you pay for visiting one of the world’s largest financial centres and being able to admire views like this…

 

The River Limmat, Zurich.

 

Zurich joined the Swiss Confederacy in 1351 and was, for a short time, the capital of the Swiss Confederation* in the mid-1800s. It is one of Switzerland’s oldest cities, with traces of habitation dating back 6,000 years. The old town is home to Roman ruins, medieval fortifications and beautifully restored buildings dating from the 16th to 19th centuries. All of that sits in juxtaposition to the ultra-modern financial heart of the city where global giants have their international headquarters and the billionaires of the world store their untold wealth in secret Swiss bank accounts.

*This is actually Switzerland’s “official” name. Confoederatio Helvetica in Latin, hence its abbreviation CH. This confederation of 16 cantons is quite unique in the world in that every canton retains a high degree of independence. For example, each canton determines what language(s) are used in the region and taught in schools.  

 

Wandering the cobbled streets of Zurich’s altstadt.

 

 
 

The narrow cobbled lane-ways of Zurich’s old town.

Zurich’s old town straddles the river, and a number of arched bridges link the two halves of the altstadt.

 

An example of the lovely old buildings in Zurich’s altstadt.
 
 

The Church of St Peter, Zurich, has the largest clock face of any church in Europe. They do love their clocks and watches here in Switzerland.

 
 

It’s a pretty enough city – wide, clean streets; lots of trees and greenery everywhere; the sparkling blue waters of Lake Zurich and the Limmat River never far away; and lots of great architecture on display. We spent our whole day strolling through the altstadt (translation = old town), admiring the best that Zurich has to offer. Not a bad way to spend the day, even if it did cost us an arm and a leg.

 

Admiring the view of Zurich’s old town.

 

Some of these old buildings lining the river were built in the 16th century, atop much older ruins from as far back as Roman times.

 

The Grossmunster, Zurich’s main Protestant cathedral.

 

The intricately carved doors of the Grossmunster. Each panel depicts a story from the Bible. We went into the church too but couldn’t take any photos. The interior is pretty simple and quite stark, though the stained glass windows were amazing.

 

Today was our last day in Switzerland as we move on to Liechtenstein tomorrow. It’s been an amazing 2 weeks in the land of holey cheese, cow bells, watches, chocolate, epic mountains and green hills alive with the sound of music. The natural wonders of this country are incomparable; we expected the scenery to be great but it surprised us how truly stunning Switzerland is. Yes it’s a bit expensive, but it’s also very small so you can see a lot in just a couple of weeks. We’ve zipped through the country pretty quickly, but with everything we’ve seen and everywhere we’ve been, I think we’ve seen a fair representative slice of the Swiss pie. Certainly we’ve seen more watch and chocolate shops than any human being needs to see in their lifetime, and more mountains and lakes than we are likely to ever forget. All in all it’s been a fantastic visit and we will leave Switzerland with some of the most amazing memories and a collection of photos that bear witness to how truly spectacular nature can be.

DAY 100: ZURICH BECKONS!


Salutations from Zurich!

Welcome blog fans to the 100th day of our adventure! It’s hard to believe we’ve been at this for 100 days already – time really does fly when you’re having fun it seems…

 

This is what our 100th day of travel & adventure looked like….

 

Our incredible run of perfect Swiss weather came to a stop today; we woke to clouds, drizzling rain and an icy wind that definitely spoke of winter coming. Great weather for a sleep in and reading the paper in bed right? Unfortunately neither of us understand German well enough for the local newspaper to be of much use to us, and as nice as the idea of a sleep-in was, we had a train to Zurich to catch! *SIGH* Life sure can be tough sometimes can’t it?!

 

We left St Moritz and the Engaldine Valley a little wetter than when we arrived.

 

It took about 4 hours to get from St Moritz to Zurich and it rained the whole time, making for a rather subdued journey. The scenery was still nice, but certainly not as breath-taking as some of the sights we’ve seen in Switzerland over the past fortnight. Once we left the Engadine Valley and its many mountain peaks behind the terrain quickly became very flat and much more densely populated that anywhere we’ve been in Switzerland far (in fact some 66% of Swiss people live on the Swiss Plateau, which extends roughly across the North of the whole country, from Zurich in the East to Geneva in the West). 

 

Coming down into the more populous Swiss Plateau. 

 

We changed trains in the small industrial town of Chur and were soon speeding along the Eastern shore of Lake Zurich. This 29km long, 4km wide lake is fed by the Linth River and, like all the lakes we’ve seen in Switzerland, is incredibly clean, clear and blue – that beautiful aquamarine that speaks of glacier melt and cold, cold water. Zurich is the only major city on the lake, though there we passed small villages all along the lakeshore.

 

Traversing the Linth River which feeds Lake Zurich.

 

We arrived in Zurich in time for a late lunch (8CHF/10AUD for a ham and cheese sandwich – yikes!), just as the sun was poking through the clouds. Once we’d checked in to our quaint little hotel and gotten settled in, we decided to head straight to the lake and see if we could catch a boat for one of the afternoon lake cruises. We’ve learnt not to take sunshine for granted – take it while it’s there because you never know what weather tomorrow might bring…

 

Heading down to the lake while the sun lasts.

 

Fortunately the sun hung around and we spent a very comfortable afternoon enjoying its warmth whilst cruising Lake Zurich. As we pulled out of Zurich we could see the altstadt (translation – old town) and the city’s famous bridges and churches silhouetted against the afternoon sun (we have set tomorrow aside for exploration of the old town).

 

Pulling out of Zurich, leaving the altstadt behind.

 

Lake Zurich laid out in front of us.

 

Sailing past some of Zurich’s old stately buildings.

 

The boat pulled in at a few of the villages along the lakeshore, including Kilchberg-Bendlikon where Lindt have their chocolate factory. You can do a tour through the Lindt factory which includes “free” samples (you pay about 10CHF for the tour so I’m sure the cost of the samples is well and truly covered in your entry fee); given Shane’s predilection for chocolate-nomming, however (think Cookie Monster but with chocolate), I thought this would be a VERY BAD IDEA. Shane was most distressed when he later discovered we had missed the stop for the Lindt factory.

 

A lovely afternoon for a lake cruise…

 

The village of Kilchberg-Bendlikon, home to the Lindt chocolate factory.

 

Once we were safely past the Lindt chocolate factory I told Shane what was back there. He wasn’t very happy with me.

 

Besides Kilchberg-Bendlikon we also stopped in at Ruschlikon, Thalwil, Kusnacht and Zollikon – all small villages built long the gently sloping shores of Lake Zurich where the city’s well-to-do have holiday homes and summer retreats. The hills all around the lake are covered in orchards and vineyards, making from some lovely Sunday afternoon strolls.

 

We pulled into a number of small villages lining the lakeshore. 

 

The village of Ruschlikon is one of the oldest villages along the lakeshore. Many wealthy Zurichans have holiday homes in villages like this.

 

The lake waters are crystal clear and very clean, though very cold.

 

We got back to Zurich city in time for an early dinner and a quiet night in watching the Swiss news, where everyone was talking about the up-coming referendum* and the need to vote “yes” to legalise sausages. Errrr…., at first we thought it was our German that was off – I mean, from what we’ve seen sausage seems to be quite legal already in Switzerland. So we double-checked our translation and bratwürste legalisieren definitely translates to “legalise sausages”. Legalising sausages is a matter for referendum?! We had to know more…

*Like in Aus, the Swiss system of government allows for citizens to vote on changes to the constitution via referendum, something they apparently get to do a lot. 


Vote “yes” to legalise sausages! Errr…., OK.

 

So it turns out the matter being voted on has to do with labour laws. Sausages are obviously not an illegal commodity in this country; the bratwurst in this context is merely symbolic and part of a campaign to change the law around shop opening hours. At the moment, food shops in Switzerland operate Monday to Saturday, and only during the day, with very few open on Sunday and/or after 7:00pm. Currently shops that DO open late are only allowed to sell products which can be directly consumed upon purchase. This means that, for example, they can sell boiled eggs but not fresh eggs, cooked sausages but not raw ones, etc. This is the sausage law they want to change. Makes perfect sense! Needless to say, reading about Swiss referendums and reviewing the on-line news about the Australian election results (Tony Abbott as PM – seriously?!) has quickly put us to sleep. So gute nacht until tomorrow blog fans! 

DAY 99: UP, DOWN & ALL AROUND ST MORITZ


St Moritz: not just about glitz and glamour

We had another one of those days today – you know: blue skies, brilliant sunshine, incredible scenery… Just the usual. 

 

Lake St Moritz, Switzerland. Just another one of those days…

 

Having arrived late yesterday afternoon into St Moritz on the Glacier Express we didn’t really get much time to explore the town. So first on the agenda for today was an early morning walk around town to see the sights; then I thought we could catch the cable car up to Corviglia and Piz Nair for some epic views; and, finally, go for a hike around Lake St Moritz, through the Stazerwald (as the forest around here is called) to Lej da Staz (translation = Lake da Staz). Shane took a little convincing, but he too thought it was a great plan…. eventually.  

 

Shane not quite warmed up to the idea of going for a trip to town, then up the mountain, then around the lake.

 

“I’m going to need another coffee.” Shane warming up to the idea of going for a trip to town, then up the mountain, then around the lake.

 

Shane (finally) warmed up to the idea of going for a trip to town, then up the mountain, then around the lake.

 

After I had fortified Shane with some of St Mortiz’s best caffeine, we took a look around St Moritz. Turns our St Moritz is very small and incredibly pretentious. The town is cute enough, in a very 19th century “continental Europe” kind of way. Gone are the wooden chalets we saw in Zermatt and central Switzerland; here it’s all stone and concrete villas, apartment buildings and giant hotels perched on impossibly steep mountainsides.  

 

St Moritz early this morning.

 

St Moritz is one of the world’s most famous (and expensive) holiday resorts and attracts over 250,000 visitors ever year – most of them more interested in “being seen” than anything else (not us). The town’s reputation as a winter hang-out for the rich and famous started in the late 1800’s, when local hotelier Johannes Badrutt literally invented winter tourism* and pitched his marketing at Europe’s elite. Badrutt’s hotel is still here and still attracts the creme de la creme every winter.

*The story goes that in September on 1854, Johannes Badrutt made a wager with 4 wealthy British summer guests staying at his hotel: that they should return in winter and, in the event that the town was not to their liking, he would reimburse their travel costs. If they were to find St. Moritz attractive in winter, he would invite them to stay as his guests for as long as they wished. Needless to say they returned and loved it and spread the word that St Moritz was the place to be in winter. This marked not only the start of winter tourism in St Moritz but the start of winter tourism in the whole of the European Alps region. The first tourist office in Switzerland was established the same year in the town. 

 

Badrutt’s Palace, THE original winter hotel in St Moritz.

 

One of the original posters advertising winter holidays in St Moritz.

 

Located high in the Engadine Valley, on the shores of lake St Moritz, the town is busiest in winter when thousands flock here to ski the slopes of famous mountainsides like Diavolezza and Corviglia. The town has hosted the Winter Olympics twice (1928 and 1948) and, even though it’s not winter, we wanted to check out the local slopes. So we caught the little cog train up to Mt Corviglia (2,468m) from central St Moritz, and from there the cable car to Piz Nair (3,057m). The scenery on the way up wasn’t as green and picturesque as we’ve seen in other parts of Switzerland; the mountains here are far more rugged and barren. Perfect in winter for skiing, of course, with no trees to get in the way, but quite desolate at this time of year. Still, it was quite spectacular standing up at Piz Nair, looking across at all the mountains around us.

 

The grass and trees petered out very quickly on our way up Mt Corviglia.

 

We passed through the early morning clouds as we caught the cable car up to Piz Nair.

 

Watching as the morning cloud burnt away on Piz Nair.

 

Shane doing his photographer/mountain goat trick again (that’s him – top left) – i.e. trying to find a precipitous spot from which to take an awesome photo.

 

Spectacular mountain scenery all around us.

  

Having not quite fully recovered from our up-hill assault of Mt Rothorn (near Zermatt), we did not quite feel up to another big mountain hike today. We satisfied ourselves instead with riding the train and cable car up and down the mountain (so lazy I know!), saving ourselves for the much easier hike around Lake St Moritz, through the Stazerwald and to Lake da Staz. Both Lake St Moritz and Lake da Staz are fed by the Inn River, and in turn feed the Inn; they are just 2 of the many beautiful lakes that dot the Engadine Valley.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Hiking around Lake St Moritz late this morning.

 

The gorgeous Lake St Moritz. 

 

St Moritz hosts sailing competitions on its lake every year in summer and an ice polo competition on the lake in winter when it’s frozen solid.

 

Loving Lake St Moritz!

 
It was a little chilly to go swimming (maximum temperature in St Moritz today: 19C), but walking around both lakes kept us warm. This being Switzerland, in all its sophistication and civilisation, when we reached Lake da Staz we found a restaurant there (of course). And not some crappy little take-away serving soggy meat pies and yesterday’s sausage rolls (which is what you would find in Aus in such an isolated spot, if you were lucky); this was a great little place serving traditional Swiss fare with a definite rustic bent to it. I had the fresh-water trout (caught 50m from the restaurant in Lake da Staz) with salad, and Shane indulged in some local veal with thick onion gravy and potatoes. Man I love this place – 5 star meals in a glorious natural setting!
 

Lunch by the lakeside – 5 star meal in a spectacular natural setting.

 

Lake da Staz: our view from lunch. 

 
We stretched lunch out for as long as we could, but eventually had to head home. Another easy (i.e. flat) hike through the Stazerwaldand we were back in our little studio apartment, marvelling at how great our time in Switzerland has been.
 

Our walk home took us through the forest and past some paddocks. These horses have one of the best views in St Moritz from their paddock I think.

 

Walking home through the Stazerwald was very easy with the wide open paths cut through the forest.

 

“I give you: the Swiss forest!”

 

“Look – more incredible mountain scenery just over there!” It’s easy to get excited in Switzerland.

 

Almost home again after another fantastic day in Switzerland…

 
 

 

DAY 98: RIDING THE GLACIER EXPRESS ALL THE WAY TO ST MORITZ


The world’s most scenic express train….

We travelled on the Glacier Express today, one of the most famous railways in the world. The Glacier Express travels across the breadth of Switzerland, from Zermatt to St Moritz in around 8 hours. Along the way we passed rocky mountains still tipped in snow, green rolling hills, valleys dotted with picturesque Swiss villages, and deep gorges. It was a long day, but a good one, watching scenery like this drift past…

 

Riding the Glacier Express, watching scenery like this go past…

 

The Glacier Express first traversed the country in 1930 and was considered a “must do” train ride for the elite of the day. The journey from Switzerland’s Western alpine region to its most Easterly alpine resort was only possible in summer however, until 1982 when the Oberalp Pass near Disentis was opened (see map below). Since then it has been carrying snap-happy tourists across 320km of Swiss countryside, through 91 tunnels and across 292 bridges.

 

The Glacier Express travels from Zermatt in Switzerland’s South-West to St Moritz in the country’s East.

 

The Glacier Express travels 320kms and goes through 91 tunnels and over 292 bridges in 8 hours

 

The train is certainly not an “express” in terms of its speed (in fact, it is often touted as the “slowest express train in the world”!); rather that it provides a one-seat ride for a long duration travel. And what a ride it was! The scenery was amazing, the service exemplary and the included lunch delicious. Basically we sat on our bums for 8 hours today, just watching Switzerland roll past and taking photos. It was like taking a day off from all the rigour of travel and sightseeing, but having the scenery come to us!

 

Just watching the scenery come to us…

 

We went past a number of rivers and lakes, like this one.

 

Switzerland at its summer best.

 

 

Starting in Zermatt early this morning we travelled back down the Mattertal Valley, past alpine villages like St Niklaus, Randa and Täsch. When we emerged from the valley, into Visp, the train basically turned right and headed on to Brig. Brig was once one of Switzerland’s richest towns as it sits in the valley between 2 key alpine passes; traders travelling North from Italy or South from Germany had little choice, therefore, but to stop in Brig on their way through.

 

Travelling down the Mattertal Valley, leaving Zermatt behind us.

 

The hamlet of St Niklaus, in the Mattertal Valley.

 


From Brig the train ran alongside the River Rhone, through the Rhone Valley. Gradually climbing up through the valley we reached Andermatt at around 12:30pm, when lunch was served. We travelled past a huge hydroelectric plant just outside of Andermatt; at which point our very informative train commentary informed us that 50% of Switzerland’s electricity comes from hydroelectric plants. Apparently they have around 500 hydroelectric power plants around the country harnessing the power of that downward flowing water. Between hydroelectric power, a few wind turbines and some solar panels, Switzerland produces 65% of its electricity from renewable sources. Pretty impressive!

Climbing out of the Rhone Valley, heading towards Andermatt.

 
 

The dam outside of Andermatt is used to produce hydroelectric power.


From Andermatt we climbed up through the Oberalp Pass which, at 2,033m, is the highest point of the journey. Not long after we passed near the village of Bürglen, the town where Switzerland’s favourite folk hero, William Tell, reportedly resided. The legend goes that William Tell was known as a strong man, an excellent mountain climber, and an expert shot with the crossbow. In his time (15th century) the Hasburgs, Emperors of Austria, were seeking to dominate the canton of Uri where Tell resided. The story goes that the newly appointed leader of Tell’s village raised a pole in the village’s central square, hung his hat on top of it, and demanded that all the townsfolk bow before the hat. When Tell publicly refusing to bow to it, he was arrested. Tell and his son were to be executed, but he could redeem his life by shooting an apple off the head of his son. As we all know, Tell was such an expert marksman that he split the apple with a bolt from his crossbow. He then killed the Austrian-appointed leader with another bolt. This gesture of liberty is said to have sparked a rebellion, that fed the impetus for the nascent Swiss Confederation. There are doubts as to whether William Tell was indeed a real man, or whether the legend was simply told to foster Swiss nationalism. Either way, he remains a popular folk hero here.

 

The Oberalp Pass which, at 2,033m, is the highest point of the journey.

 

Coming back down through the Oberalp Pass.


 

We then descended into the Rhine Gorge, reaching our lowest point of the journey in Chur (585m). The elevation profile below shows you just how much “up and down” we really did today. The Rhine Gorge was stunning; this steep-sided gorge is where the Rhine River starts its journey North towards the North Sea. So near its alpine source the river was a milky aquamarine blue, full of glacier melt and fine powdered rock. 

 

The elevation profile for the day – lots of up and down.

 

The impressive Rhine Gorge, Switzerland.

 

At this stage, the Rhine River is glacial-melt blue, milky and very very cold I’m sure!

 

Finally, from Chur we climbed up on to the Engadin Plateau, one of Switzerland’s most famous skiing areas. As the sun began to dip behind the mountains around us, the scenery became more and more alpine with fewer green pastures and more pine forests and rocky slopes begging to be covered in snow. Finally we reached our final destination: St Moritz!

 

The rocky slopes of the Engadin Plateau, one of Switzerland’s most famous skiing areas.

 

We finally reached our destination around 5:00pm this afternoon. A long but scenic day on the Glacier Express.

 

Ahhh, St Mortiz! Most expensive ski resort in the world; popular with the rich, famous (and wanna-be rich and famous) from around the world; and now our home for the next couple of days! Needless to say we are NOT staying the heart of town, but a few kilometres away from the ritzy hotels, in a small hamlet on the other side of the lake. We have our own little studio apartment again and are paying a fraction of what we would be paying if we were staying just on the other side of the lake. The views here are great and we can admire the lights of St Moritz proper from our little balcony. We’re actually in a fantastic spot – a few hundred metres from the Lake St Moritz, just 2.5kms from St Moritz town proper, and we back on to the forest. It’s such a beautiful, peaceful spot; we even had a squirrel come visit us as we were having dinner! A wonderful way to end a long, but great, day….

 

Ah St Moritz!

 

Our studio apartment is just outside of St Moritz, on the other side of the lake. Just 2.5kms away but a world away in terms of glitz, glamour and price!

 

Our home the next couple of days. Not very glamorous but plenty comfortable! 

 
 

This little guy was just outside our place tonight, collecting pine nuts in preparation for the coming winter no doubt.

 

DAY 97: GETTING HIGH IN SWITZERLAND


Just another day 3,000m up in the Pennine Alps…

Evening blog fans – welcome to another day of glorious sunshine and incredible Swiss mountain scenery! I almost feel like we should be apologising for how many ridiculously epic photos we’ve been posting since we arrived in Switzerland…, almost. The past 10 days here have been fantastic; the weather has been amazing and we’ve been to so many awesome places. But please, don’t be jealous, be INSPIRED! We certainly were today when we hiked up Mt Rothorn and discovered this…

 

Another annoyingly perfect day in Switzerland.

 

Mt Rothorn is one of the smaller mountains that overlooks Zermatt; at 3,103m it’s dwarfed by the dozen or so 4,000m+ giants around it. It may not be the biggest, but we chose Mt Rothorn because we determined, after much research and discussions with other hikers*, it would be the best mountain for us to climb. The best in terms of views and comfort. You see, Mt Rothorn sits almost in the middle of all the much larger mountains around it, and from the peak you get 270° views of the Pennine Alps. Also, the mountain is accessible via funicular train then cable car, which means we could hike up and then just cruise back down. There are also numerous restaurants on the way up the mountain – great for “recovery breaks” (i.e. cafe latte breaks) and civilised toilet breaks. At just over 3,000m high we also figured the peak wouldn’t be too cold which meant less gear to carry.

*Note: I would just like to say that it is very important, when seeking advice from other people about where to go hiking, to determine exactly what their definition of “easy” and “difficult” are. For example, when asking a couple of young French guys decked out in snow gear and carrying mountain climbing stuff (e.g. crampons, ropes) about hiking, be very cautious when they say a particular hike is “tres facile”. I wanted to find a couple of 70+ retirees and ask them for THEIR opinion on what hike we should do, but Shane was sure the young MOUNTAINEERS wouldn’t lead us astray. Ha! The good news is we made it, but let me tell you there were a couple of times there I was cursing those young mountain climbing dudes something fierce for their cheerful advice.

 

Be cautious when asking people for advice on where to go hiking. Or at least make sure you ask someone whose fitness level and fear factor match yours!

 

We had been told that the first part of the hike from Zermatt (1,620m) to Sunnegga (2,288m) wasn’t that interesting and that the best part of the hike is from Sunnegga to the top of Mt Rothorn (3,103m). So we got up early; packed our water and supplies; bought our all all-day Rothorn Mountain Pass* for 65CHF ($75AUD) each; and caught the first train up to Sunnegga (see map below).

*The Rothorn Mountain Pass allows you to go up and down the funicular train from Zermatt to Sunnegga and to use the cable cars on the mountain as much as you want; we figured this would give us the freedom to tailor the day’s adventure to our mood. 

 

The summer hiking around Zermatt is limitless! We chose Mt Rothorn for its views and relative comfort, and were not disappointed.

 

The plan from there was to hike up* the mountain all the way up to the top, then just catch the cable car back down. Easy! Well, the first part of it was anyway. The view of the iconic Matterhorn from Sunnegga was great! The 4 faces of the Matterhorn, rising above the surrounding glaciers, face the four compass points and are incredibly steep. 

*One might be tempted to think that the smarter thing to do would be to cable car up the mountain then hike down. Having done a few mountain hikes over the past 97 days I urge you dear reader to dispel this falsely held belief. When the going is as steep as it was today, up may be hard on the muscles, but down is a bitch when it comes to keeping your footing and not ruining your knees. We have worked out, through trial and error, that for us up is actually WAY better than down. Plus if you hike up the mountain you get to the top feeling like you’ve earned yourself a good lunch and an easy trip back! 

 

Sunnegga station, the starting point of our hike.

 

The view of the Matterhorn from Sunnegga station was pretty spectacular.

 

Here we are, optimistic and hopeful, just about to start our hike.

 

The path for most of the hike was very well marked and easy to follow.

 

For most of the hike we had the path to ourselves. The silence and serenity were lovely.

 

The view along the way was pretty good too, as Shane is demonstrating here.

 

The final ascent to Blauherd cable car station. 

 

The mid-point for the hike in terms of vertical distance up was Blauherd. Here we stopped for a wee break (get the double entendre there?), a quick look around and then just continued on. 

 

Yippee – we reached Blauherd! Now we just need to get all the way up there…

 

Still had some great views of the Matterhorn from Blauherd. 

 

Shane seems very adept at seeking out precarious precipices from which to take photos, as you can see. I guess one must take risks for one’s art…

 

The path continued ever on and upward….

 

One of the highlights of the day was when we reached Stellisee (translation = Lake Stelli). This small alpine lake was incredibly blue and alive with fish, and the views all around us were stunning. We felt compelled to sit on a rock sunning ourselves by the side of the lake for a few minutes, just soaking up the atmosphere and breathing in that fresh mountain air.

 

Lake Stelle, a highlight of the day.

 

Chilling out by the lake, soaking up the serenity.

 

From Stellisee to the very top of Mt Rothorn was the most challenging part of the climb – steep, lots of loose rocks and by this stage we were about 3 hours into the hike and getting a little fatigued. This was when the swearing started and when I started questioning the intelligence of asking young, mountain-goat type people for advice on hiking. It took us almost 2 hours to ascend the last 500m in altitude and I can tell you I was never so happy to see the Swiss flag as when we crested the last hill and saw this…

 

We made it!

 

Needless to say, once we reached the top of the mountain, it was stunning. Mountains all around us; glaciers and snow glinting in the sunlight; and a restaurant that served schnitzel and beer! 

 

The top of the mountain – our final destination.

 

The Dufourspitze, one of the many 4,000m+ mountain peaks around us.

 

Mt Liskamm & Mt Breithorn – a couple more of our giant mountain neighbours.

 

The Findel Glacier, one of Switzerland’s many alpine glaciers.

 

Beer & a well earned rest at 3,000m. 

 

“Oh yeah – check this schnitzel out!” Shane was most satisfied with his repast. Lunch was wholesome and nourishing – just what our growling bellies were demanding.

 

 

Switzerland is amazing, not just because of its incredible mountains and scenery, but also because they set things up so well for people like us – people that like a bit of comfort and civilisation along with our glorious views and summer hiking. We had the BEST lunch at the top of Mt Rothorn (even if it wasn’t “the best” it damned well tasted “the best” coz by that stage we were pretty hungry, I can tell you), and lingered up there over coffee and apfelstrudel for a while, enjoying our well-earned break.

 

We lingered over coffee and apple strudel to admire this view… 

 

The trip back down was VERY easy by comparison: big cable car from Mt Rothorn to Blauherd, change to small cable car from Blauherd to Sunnegga, then back on the funicular train for Zermatt. Half an hour and we were back down in the village (as opposed to 5 hours to get UP), sunburnt and exhausted, but blissfully happy. Just another glorious day in Switzerland… 

 

Catching the big cable car (capacity 150 people) down from Mt Rothorn to Blauherd.

 

Then the little cable car from Blauherd to Sunnegga. So EASY compared to hiking!

 

Then the train all the way back down to Zermatt, down there in the valley below.

 

DAY 96: SLEEPING UNDER THE SHADOW OF THE MATTERHORN


Tgau da Zermatt!

That’s “Hello from Zermatt!” for all of you out there that don’t speak Romansh*. Where’s Zermatt I hear you ask? Well, it’s a tiny village right near the Swiss/Italian border, in the South-West of the country. Famous as a ski town and for its view of the Matterhorn. You know the Matterhorn, it looks like this:

 

The Matterhorn – the view Zermatt is most famous for.

 

*A special note on Switzerland’s other national language… 

Romansh is a Latin-based language spoken by a small percentage of Swiss people, including those in the region we’re currently in. Along with German, French and Italian, it is one of Switzerland’s 4 official national languages, though it is by far the least common. Neither of us had even heard of Romansh before coming into Switzerland, but fortunately it’s very similar to Italian so we’ve been able to make ourselves understood well enough. Mind you,everyone we’ve met so far in Zermatt seems to be multi-lingual to the point that it makes us feel grossly inadequate; we’ve had waiters and shop staff talk to us in French, German, Italian, Romansh and English, all without batting an eyelid. With Zermatt being in a Romansh and German speaking canton, plus with it a major international ski destination so close to Italy and France, it makes sense that people would have to be at least passingly comfortable with all 5 languages, but it’s still impressive. When we passed comment on this incredible multi-linguality, one of the locals shared a great joke with us: 

Q: What do you call someone that speaks 3 languages? 

A: Trilingual.

Q: What do you call someone that speaks 2 languages?

A: Bilingual.

Q: What do you call someone that speaks 1 language? 

A: A native English speaker.


We found it particularly amusing, mostly because it’s so true. Native English speakers do seem to, perhaps quite arrogantly, just assume others speak English too. We’ve tried (sometimes in vain – e.g. Finland) to learn a little of each language as we’ve travelled around. If nothing else to ensure we can feed ourselves and find our way back to hotel, but also to help us understand a little more about the countries we’re visiting and so we can engage with people a bit more readily as we travel around. Plus it’s a good way to keep the brain juices flowing! 


We try to learn the local lingo, though sometimes are attempts are laughable…


We left Montreux and the splendid Swiss Riviera this morning by train. Our journey took us along Lake Geneva and into the Swiss Rhone Valley. This wide valley that runs either side of the Rhone River is one of the lowest and flattest parts of Switzerland, and therefore one of its most developed. The number of industrial and commercial enterprises we passed made the first part of the trip rather dull and uninteresting – one giant shed is much like another really and factories are never that exciting. Once we got to Visp and changed trains however, things started to look up…

 

The views improved once we turned out of the Rhone Valley and into the narrow Matter Valley.

 

The Mattertal (translation = Matter Valley) is located in the Pennine Alps, in South-Western Switzerland just across the border from Italy. This narrow vale is flanked by massive mountains and glaciers, and the tiny train that we caught up into the valley ran right up alongside a sheer rock face the whole way. On the other side of the train flowed the Matter-Visp River, a small glacial river that drains into the mighty Rhone. The Matter Valley runs for about 40kms and at the end of the valley you come to Zermatt and the Matterhorn. 

 
 
 
 

Our train followed the Matter-Visp River the whole way up the Matter Valley.

 

As we spend up the valley, the mountains either side of us got bigger and bigger…

 

…until we finally reached the end of the valley and the alpine village of Zermatt.


Zermatt is a village of just 6,000 people, 1,642m up in the Alps, that swells to 4 times its size in winter when thousands descend on the town to ski the slopes around it. In summer it’s the hikers, the mountain bikers and the mountain climbers that flock to this little hamlet; all of them, like us, here to marvel at the mighty Matterhorn and tackle this mountainous terrain. Zermatt is almost completely surrounded by the high mountains of the Pennine Alps; from here we can see Monte Rosa (Dufourspitze in German), Switzerland’s highest peak at 4,634m height. We can also see the Dom (4,545m), Lyskamm (4,527m), Weisshorn (4,505m), and of course, the Matterhorn (4,478m). Not a bad little collection of mountains hey?

 

Zermatt is surrounded by numerous 4000m+ mountains, like this one…

 

We arrived in Zermatt this afternoon and, after checking into our studio apartment (a kitchen – yay!), we went out exploring the village. It’s a particularly cute village, not only because of the many wooden houses everywhere, but also because the entire village is a car-free zone. To prevent air pollution the town banned combustion engine vehicles years ago, making it perfect for an afternoon walking tour. There are some electric cars around town – these are only used for “essential services” though (e.g. rubbish collection) and as taxis for ferrying exhausted tourists around town. The electric taxis are tiny and just add to the village’s charm.

 

The cute little village of Zermatt, our home for the next couple of days.


One of the tiny electric taxis that you can catch around Zermatt.

 

The village church, with mountains all around.

 

All the houses in the village are like this – typical wooden Swiss chalets.

 

A view of the town’s main street, with the River Matter-Visp through the middle of the street and the Matterhorn in the background.

The village is adorable and our studio apartment is great – warm and cosy and perfect for our 2 night stay. It’s going to be great fun having a couple of days to spend up here in the mountains, exploring the area and trying out some of the hikes. Not sure if I’m quite up for climbing a 4,000+m mountain monster, but maybe one of the smaller peaks (e.g. the 3,104m Mt Rothorn) could be tackled. We’ll let you know tomorrow…

DAY 95: MOUNTAINS, CASTLES & LAKES OF THE SWISS RIVIERA


Exploring the best of the Swiss Riviera

Wow – what a day! We went up, down and around the Swiss Riviera today, exploring 3 of this region’s best known sites and loving every minute of it. First we climbed to the top of Rochers de Naye by cog rail to hike around for a bit; then we sped back down the mountain by funicular train to see Switzerland’s most famous castle: Chateau de Chillon. Finally, we cruised around the Eastern end of Lake Geneva on a boat for the afternoon. absolutely splendid day that definitely goes on the list of “Best Days of Lives”. 

 

Another awesome day in Switzerland.

 

The day started as all days should, I think: cafe au lait in a quaint little French cafe accompanied by hand-made pain du chocolat and croissants, enjoyed whilst in the company of a cherished loved one. As we sat there sipping our coffee, watching the morning sunlight dance across the surface of Lake Geneva, we stopped and shared a moment of gratitude. We are so truly fortunate to be able to enjoy days like this… 

 

Fortunate indeed to be enjoying days like these….

 

Believe it or not people, the day just got better. After breakfast we headed up to Les Rochers de Naye (translation = the rocks of Naye). This cluster of 4 mountain peaks 2,042m above Lake Geneva is accessible from Montreux station via cog railway and provides a brilliant vantage point from which you can enjoy the most amazing views of the Swiss Riviera. During winter the mountain is packed with skiers, and in summer the hikers come out. You can actually hike all the way to the top of the mountain, though the last bit is rated “Extreme” in terms of difficulty due to the rock climbing involved. I am neither good with heights nor a rock climber (Shane would give it a go though, I’m sure), so we had to take the easy option and just catch the train up. And thank goodness we did – that is one hell of a climb! It took the little cog train an hour to crank its way up the mountain and at times the incline was so steep it felt like we were on a roller coaster. Swiss rail engineers are amazing I tell you! As you would expect, the views back down across the lake and the town of Montreux were amazing…  

 

Views back down to Lake Geneva from the train.

 

When we reached the top of Les Rochers de Naye, however, the views went to a whole other level of AWESOME. It was a spectacularly clear day and we could see for miles in every direction. We walked all over the summit – from one side to the other and back again, busily taking photos and uttering one “wow” after another. Anyone overhearing us would think we were simpletons really; I think our vocabulary dwindled down to just 2 words: “wow” and “ohmygod” (said as one word). As much as I would love to show you every photo, that would just be ridiculous, so here are just a few samples of why Les Rochers de Naye enraptured us so very completely.

 

Views from the Southern side of the mountain down to Lake Geneva and the towns of the Swiss Riviera.

 

Views from the Northern side of the mountain, looking across the peaks of the Gruyere National Park.

 

Views back down the valley as the train left to go back down to Montreux.

 

Western flank of the mountain over the national park. You can just see the tiniest slither of Lake Geneva in the photo too.

 

Shane admires the views East over the lip of the mountain, towards the Simmental Valley.

 

Before we’d realised it a couple of hours had gone by and given we still had a castle to fit in before the day’s end, we thought we had better head back down the mountain. So we caught the train down, but instead of going all the way back to Montreux we hopped off half way down at  the small town of Glion. Here we caught the tiniest funicular train we’ve ever seen down to lake shore. Why? Because the funicular train got us nice and close to one of the oldest castles in Switzerland: Chateau de Chillon.

 

Catching the funicular train down to the lake to see the castle.

 

Chateau de Chillon.

 

Built as a defensive fortress in 1005 the castle sits on a small island on the lake; it is connected to the mainland via a covered wooden bridge and is open to the public.  The castle was owned by the Dukes of Savoy, who ruled the Savoy region from the 11th century and who went on to rule Italy from 1861 to 1946, when Italy became a republic. Chateau of Chillon has been a popular tourist attraction for almost 200 years due to Lord Byron’s 1816 poem “The Prisoner Of Chillon” (1816) about François de Bonivard, a Genevois monk and politician who was imprisoned there from 1530 to 1536. We got to see a bit of 19th century vandalism at the castle, where Lord Byron carved his name into a pillar of the dungeon. 

 

Byron carved his name into this pillar in the dungeon after his visit in 1813. 

 

The castle is a well preserved example of Gothic architecture and medieval fortress living. The tour through the castles many courtyards, dungeons, turrets and princely rooms was great, as were the views of the lake and mountains through the castle’s windows

 

The Duke’s bedchamber.

 

The Duke’s latrine. The latrines emptied straight down into the lake. Eeeeewww.

 

The Duke’s view.

 

The view from the dungeon. Still quite nice really..

 

One of the sitting rooms. Love those Gothic arched ceilings!

 

Getting hungry – seeking lunch…

 

After a good dose of history we were starving; some foraging found us a couple of 8CHF ($10AUD) sandwiches* (nothing too exciting but enough to sustain us for the afternoon) and a view to compensate for what our lunch lacked in volume.

*Have I mentioned that Switzerland is EXPENSIVE? We asked a local for some advice on how to save money on food whilst in Switzerland and his reply was “Eat a lot before you arrive and then wait until you leave to fill up again”. Lucky we topped up on schnitzel in Germany then! And with Austria next on the itinerary we should be able to fill up once we leave Switzerland, so for now our philosophy is to eat sparingly and only dream of schnitzel….

 

View with your sandwich? Why certainly, don’t mind if I do….

Our final adventure for the day actually came to us: as we were sitting by the lake enjoying our late lunch  one of the boats that cruises around Lake Geneva pulled in to the quay beside us and on a whim we decided to jump on. The cruise took up the rest of our afternoon and allowed us to gape at the mountains and the lake a bit more, just from a different vantage point.  We even got to stop in at St Gingolph, a tiny village on the other side of the lake that straddles Switzerland and France. Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to actually go to France, but  we got damn close!  

 

The boat came to us. We HAD to take it!

 

Leaving Chateau de Chillon behind.

 

Views across the lake towards the Swiss Riviera.

 

St Gingolph, the little town that straddles the Swiss/French border.

 

Heading back towards Montreux, and the end of another amazing day. 

 

As the boat pulled back into Montreux late this afternoon and we strolled home along the promenade, it hit us again how lucky we are to be having this adventure. La vie est belle n’est-ce pa?


Enjoying the good life.