Day 12 – Bern, baby, Bern

So now that the threat of thunderstorms has passed, it’s time for heat warnings for the next week. Temperatures are expected to soar into the 90’s and possibly even hit 100 in parts of Switzerland.

Today we visited Bern, the capitol of the Swiss Cantons. The train ride was really nice. You travel along the shore of Lake Thun the majority of the way and have great views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The trip only took about an hour and was an easy journey.

Once there, we headed for the old town. It was just a short walk down to the Zytglogge or clock tower. The tower was built in the 1200’s and was part of the city’s western fortifications. The famous clock was added in the 1400’s. It features an astronomical calendar clock and an animated mechanism that chimes on the hour with moving bears, lions, a bell ringing jester and Chronos, who flips his hourglass at the hour change.

Bern clock tower

Astronomical clock and animated mechanism

Next, we headed over to the Einstein Museum. They have a wonderful exhibit that takes you through his life and times. Lots of interesting photos, documents and even film clips of his life and accomplishments. It was fun seeing some of the items that were patented while he worked in the patent office.

Sue cozying up with ladies man – Albert

What do you mean the Bills have no chance?

Several patents given out by Einstein

The even had an illustration of his theory of relativity in layman’s terms. As I understood it, the speed of light is constant, but you can drink cool Rosé faster on a hot day. I may have to read through it again for clarity.

Theory of Relativity explained with bouncing balls.

After the museum, we made our way over to the Bear Park. As the official mascot of Switzerland, bears can be found everywhere – not real ones, of course. However in Bern, there is a special place along the river that was built for them. On this day, there are three bears present. Berna was sent away to Bulgaria to shack up with a boy bear after clashing with her mother. Kids!!

Bear butt

Many things to see as you walk through the town. There are quite a few fountains, the riverfront and the casino as you walk, plus the sidewalks are covered most of the way, so even on the hot days you can always find a little shade.

Bern had been celebrating the return of Formula-E racing on Friday and Saturday, so today they were cleaning up. With that going on all around, we decided to head to Thun so we could take a boat ride back to Interlaken. When we checked on the boat schedule, we found that we had missed the last one for the day.

On such a nice day, a boat ride would have been perfect. No sense crying over spilled milk though. We just caught a train back to Interlaken instead.

Many restaurants were closed since it was Sunday, so we checked with the restaurant from the night before and we were able to get a reservation. It had been so warm in Bern that we both needed to cool off with a nice shower before getting ready for dinner.

We sat outside and really enjoyed the beautiful evening. Just a light breeze as the sun was beginning to set behind the mountains.

Tonight’s meal was equally as good as yesterday’s. We started with an order of spinach dumplings that I was nice enough to share with Sue. Then we both had the Veal with mushrooms in a light gravy, along with Rosti and grilled vegetables. The customary bottle of wine presented itself in the form of a red blend called “Lune Noir”.

After dinner, a nice stroll back to the hotel completed our time in Interlaken. Tomorrow we are off to Lauterbrunnen.

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Day 11 – Chilling in Interlaken.

After last evening’s romantic rainfall, we were hoping today would be dry and sunny. However, the weather person says more rain and a chance for some afternoon thunderstorms is in the forecast.

Oh well, we had decided to rest up a bit and enjoy Interlaken, so we can deal with it.

We started the day off with a little walk towards the river. The water flows so fast between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun; this morning there are actually paddle boarders zipping by.

The Aare River flowing through Interlaken

The water has greenish-blue tint. We found out that the color comes from all the minerals it picks up as it flows down from the glaciers.

Just around the bend from the river is the funicular to go up to Harder Kulm. Since it looks fairly clear up top, we decided to head up.

This is another steep ride. The grade is at 68 degrees at one point. We did pass some folks who were hiking up to the top and struggling a little bit – we waved.

Up top, the views were gorgeous. There were more clouds in the direction of Lake Brienz than Lake Thun, but the other mountain peaks were clear. We were snapping pictures in every direction, as the views were awesome everywhere you looked.

There is a cute restaurant up top with views to die for – just don’t drop your spoon. Additionally, there is an observation platform to take pictures and we’re told that in the evenings there are folk music performers.

A little breeze came up and in mere minutes we were surrounded by clouds and the beautiful views disappeared. We started walking back to the funicular and could see that the clouds were thinning so the views would return.

Pretty flowers along the path

More flowers along the path

Upper and lower – the views disappear when the clouds blow in

Views from the funicular

Hikers crossing over the tracks

This time, we had front row seats on the funicular and could really see how steep the grade really was. Passed some more hikers on our way down – waved again. The funicular takes eight minutes to make the trip; the hike is two sweaty hours. No math needed for that equation.

The weather was still decent, so we took a walk into the town center. Very nice, lots of little shops – especially watch shops. When we arrived at the park, waiting in front and loading passengers was the City Tourist Train. Call me crazy, but I love those things, so we hopped aboard.

The City Train and below, Heidi’s grandpa on the right.

According to Sue, our “engineer” bore a striking resemblance to Heidi’s grandfather. She was delighted; I was wondering why he left Heidi home alone. Must be a Swiss thing.

He took us around town, regaling us with interesting facts and folklore – including the man whose face is in the mountain after the death of a girl from a fall.

Can you see his eyes and mustache?

After our ride, we hopped across the street to sample some delicious gelato, before crossing back over to watch the paragliders landing in the park. I’m not sure if there is really a weight limit, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Otherwise I would have been gliding like a bird.

By the way, still no rain.

We took a nice walk back to the hotel to relax for a while before dinner. Tonight we are going to the restaurant in the Hotel Interlaken. We saw the menu when we walked by and it looked good, so I can’t wait.

When dinner time arrived, we grabbed our umbrellas and head to the restaurant. Our meals were delicious. Sue had a salmon dish and I had roasted pork belly. Yum!

Tom’s Smoked duck appetizer

Sue’s goat cheese appetizer

Tom’s pork belly dinner

Sue’s salmon and white asparagus

When we finished, we walked back to the hotel with our umbrellas still closed up – so much for the thunderstorms.

We enjoyed looking at the pictures from the day and then made our plans for Bern tomorrow morning.

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Day 10 – Journey to the top of Europe – Jungfraujoch

We have enjoyed the beauty of Switzerland in each and every place we have visited so far. Everything is just so green and natural, plus exceptionally clean. I can honestly say I have never breathed in such fresh air and I am relishing every breath.

Today we visited a mountaintop location known as Jungfraujoch. It is called the Top of Europe because it is the highest train station in all of Europe. It is located in the saddle between the peaks of the Eiger, Monsch and Jungfrau at an altitude of 3571 M or 11,782 ft. More on this later, but trust me – it’s beautiful!

So our journey began with a train ride from our home base of Interlaken to the town of Lauterbrunnen. We switched trains at Lauterbrunnen and then traveled up to Kleine Scheidegg by way of Wengen.

At Kleine Scheidegg, you board another train that takes you up to Jungfraujoch. There is some spectacular scenery, however the bulk of the trip is up through a tunnel carved into the North Face of the Eiger Mountain. When you arrive up at the station, you have a few different activities you can participate in. As for Sue and I, we were there for the views, not to play in the snow.

You take an elevator up to the observation platform where you can step outside and get some heavenly views. When we first arrived, we both could really feel the effects of the altitude. I was definitely more affected by the thin air and struggled to catch my breath more than a few times. We just took it slow and moseyed through the passages.

When we went outside, the clouds had very nearly blanketed the neighboring peaks and left us looking at a fog-like mist. Additionally, it was raining / snowing and was not as pleasant as we had hoped. However, just a few minutes later the clouds moved on and we had some gorgeous views. We made sure we took pictures and got a look from every possible angle before the clouds returned to obscure the views.

Snowy, cloudy glacier

A little snow collecting on the sign.

That black spot is actually a bird

Edge of the clouds as it clears out

A view to remember

Clouding up on one side

Still clear on the other side

I’m sure a sunny day with bright sunshine would have made for even better views, but we were both awestruck by the surrounding mountains, the views of the Aletsch Glacier and the incredible engineering feat of getting a railroad and all the facilities up to the top.

I hope the pictures give you an idea of what it was like.

After viewing the mountains and the glacier, we headed over towards the station to head back down. Along the way we walked through a couple of exhibits that told the story of the men who dug the tunnels and built the railroad, plus there was a fabulous snow globe that was all carved out of wood and with its animated characters, brought a smile to everyone’s face.

An old goat – wooden, of course!

No shaking this snow globe

Murals

High cave found while digging

Shoppers

Once on the train, we headed back down to Kleine Scheidegg, where we connected with our return train. For the ride back to Interlaken, we chose to go through the town of Grindelwald. Grindelwald is another quaint little town with charming shops and restaurants.

Once back in Interlaken, we needed a little while to take in all we had seen. That’s one of our favorite things about traveling – settling back and comparing notes, looking at the pictures we took and talking about our day.

After resting up for a little while, we cleaned up for dinner. The restaurant is called Chalet Beizli and is connected to our hotel, which is a good thing because that rain the weatherman had threatened finally arrived. We both smiled knowing that we had enjoyed a great day under the threat of rain and then got to have a romantic dinner on the restaurant’s covered terrace with the rain now falling.

We enjoyed a bottle of wine, salads and a plate of Wiener Schnitzel. The meal was delicious, the waitress was very nice and the evening was romantic. I definitely like this traveling thing.

We headed back to the room to change and relax before heading to bed a little earlier. Tomorrow we’re just going to hang around town as the weather is not suppose to be so nice. We’ll wait to go to Bern on Sunday.

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Day 9 – Moving on to Interlaken

Wow, that went fast. Hard to believe that we are finished with Lucerne and moving on to Interlaken.

We really enjoyed our time in Lucerne. The boat rides, the mountaintop, the riverfront and the old town were all wonderful. I had read beforehand that Lucerne was many people’s favorite town and I would be hard pressed to find fault with their thinking.

Today we are taking the Golden Pass Panoramic train from Lucerne to Interlaken. It’s the same train that everyone else takes, except there are a few cars that have bigger windows and ceiling glass. We did enjoy the fact that there were only six people in our car and everyone was pretty quiet while watching the scenery go by. There was even one gentleman who slept most of the way.

So it’s not the best thing to take photos through the windows, but I did to give you a bit of a feeling for the scenery that we saw. Forgive the quality and enjoy the ride.

When we arrived at the Interlaken OST station, it was mobbed. Apparently, another train had arrived just before us and deposited a bunch of people. Luckily, the mob thinned out a little when they got on their buses and headed out. Not sure if they are staying here or are just on their way to another destination; you can probably guess what I’m hoping.

Our hotel is less than a five minute walk from the train station. We’re staying at the Carlton-Europe Hotel and it is perfectly located. An interesting fact about the hotel is that it is adults only, though you can bring well-mannered dogs. As for the children, they say that there are many other nice hotels nearby that welcome them.

We were cheerfully greeted by the counter staff and offered a beverage while filling out the paperwork. Our room is very nice, with plenty of space to walk around, several chairs to relax, a bathroom with a tub and separate shower and a very comfortable bed.

Once settled in the room, we decided to head out and have an early dinner. The two nearby restaurants didn’t start serving until 5:30pm, so we stopped by the house bar called “Whiskeyness” for a little refreshment. Two gin and tonics later, we were ready for dinner.

Dinner was at Johnny’s Pub and Grill. The waitress was great, guiding us along using our hacked-up German. She really made things fun. Their specialties are grilled items with fries/rice and a salad bar. Sue had a grilled pork steak and I had a T-Bone steak and we both thought they were awesome. A nice bottle of red wine to go along with our meals made for a nice evening.

Since the restaurant was right next door to the hotel, it was just a short walk home and we were inside just before the rain started. Nothing terrible, just a steady rain. Hopefully tomorrow the rain will cooperate and hold off until later so we can enjoy another mountaintop excursion.

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Day 8 – Exploring Old Town Lucerne

After yesterday’s wonderful day in the mountains, today we explored the old town of Lucerne. Once again, we got an early start as thunderstorms were scheduled to head this way in the afternoon.

We walked over to the bus stop and hopped on a bus heading to Löwenplatz. It only took about ten minutes to get there and we certainly could have walked, but we have the Lucerne city pass that allows us to use the bus, so why not ?

From Löwenplatz it was just a short walk to our first site, the iconic “Dying Lion” Monument. As we were walking up the street, there was a large tour group coming towards us. However, when we arrived at the little grotto, it was us and just a few others – so it was peaceful.

It was carved in 1820 in memory of the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 defending the French king during the French Revolution.

There is a real emotion you feel looking at the lion. His facial expression and the way he is twisted with the spear piercing his body is very moving.

Very touching indeed…

After leaving the monument, we returned to the main street to catch the bus back to the center of the old town.

There is a very well known, but touristy restaurant in the square. It looks cute, but so far we are quite satisfied with our meals.

The Old Swiss House restaurant

I wonder if there is a place to buy souvenirs ?

The bus back dropped us off right in front of an ice cream store, but we resisted and started into the old town. As we’ve seen elsewhere, there are many fountains – all with drinkable water.

Many of the buildings have painted facades telling the story of the family or of a town event. The photo below depicts Mr. and Mrs. Fritschi and Lucerne’s annual Mardi Gras celebration, called Fasnacht.

Lots of small shops, restaurants and even fresh fruit markets can be found throughout the old town.

Next thing on the agenda – lunch! We chose a historical restaurant located right on the riverfront called Zunfthaus zu Pfistern. The building dates back to the early fifteenth century when it was a guild house for bakers and millers.

After a delightful and light meal, which finished with two scoops of ice cream each, we took a nice walk back to the hotel. We relaxed for a little while with the intention of going back out for a walk and a drink along the riverfront; however the thunderstorms that they promised arrived.

Heavy rain and some big boomers were more than enough of a sign to keep us in the hotel. Since we were able to get in everything that we wanted to see, this was the perfect time for it to rain.

We spent a nice night listening to music, reading and planning for our travel day tomorrow.

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Day 7 – A visit to Mount Pilatus

What a great day!

The weather this morning was gorgeous – sunny, blue skies, calm winds and warm. We definitely picked a good day to head up to the mountains. There are three popular mountain destinations from Lucerne – Mount Rigi, Mount Titlis and Mount Pilatus. Our choice to visit was Mount Pilatus.

Mount Pilatus has many legends surrounding it; my favorite is that it is infested with dragons. One of those flying by would make for a cool blog post – as long as it didn’t eat us or breath fire and toast us. I digress.

So the route we chose is called the Golden Round Trip. It was comprised of a boat ride from Lucerne to Alpnachstad. At Alpnachstad, you transfer over to take a cog wheel train up to the peak. Then on the way down, you first ride a larger cable car about half way before changing over to a smaller four-seater for the ride to the bottom. And finally, you take the bus back to Lucerne. Since we have our Swiss Passes, it was free on the boat and bus, and half-price for the train and cable cars (36 CHF each).

Ok, off we went. We decided to take the first boat over as the weatherman had predicted rain or thunderstorms for the late afternoon. We boarded and left Lucerne at 8:38 am with a scheduled arrival time of 9:25 am.

We had a beautiful ride over. The lake was calm, the sun was shining and the scenery was breath-taking: the green pastures dotted with houses, the mountains rising up from the lake and distant snow-capped mountains appearing through the morning haze. People on the boat were snapping away with their cameras, trying to get the best photos they could.

Morning beauty

Mount Pilatus beckoning us

Soon we were coming to the pier in Alpnachstad and could see just high Mount Pilatus reached up. We were warned ahead of time about the long lines to get our tickets, but when we arrived the lines were non-existent. We walked right up to the ticket window and bought our tickets with the woman encouraging us to hurry as we could catch the train directly. So instead of hours-long waits, we were heading up within fifteen minutes of disembarking. Sweet!

Our cabin mates heading up were all very nice, so we were chatting and ducking so each of us could take pictures. Three American couples and one Aussie couple and all enchanted by the views and mechanical wonder of the cog wheel train. It’s the steepest cog wheel train in the world with up to a 48% gradient and was opened in 1889, and electrified in 1937. From bottom to top it covers 2.68 miles.

The ride up takes about a half hour and some parts are not for the faint of heart. The train cuts through forest land, goes through tunnels carved out of the rock and also clings to the ledge of the mountain with just enough room for the narrow gauge track. Just before arriving at the summit we were looking out the window and saw a cow. We all looked at each other and figured he was air-lifted or took the train up, because he was not wandering up the terrain.

When we arrived at the summit, it was as though we had entered another world. Absolutely beautiful views in every direction. Snow-capped mountains stretching across the horizon on one side, the lake and the city of Lucerne on the other city – stunningly beautiful.

Through the clouds down to Lake Lucerne

We then ventured up to the observation point which is a little bit higher. Despite trying to take one for the team, Sue dropped back to the summit and I continued up. Same great views, but a wee bit higher. This time if I was to say breath-taking, it would be because of the altitude. I could definitely feel it when I was climbing up, so I decided it was time to retreat to the safety of the ground level.

I couldn’t see any of them.

View from the observation deck

There were a few clouds that came floating by, definitely cooling the temperature when they appeared, but not a big deal at all. It was decision time for us and we decided to walk over to the seating area and have a glass of wine or two.

Have to say, this could be the first time we drank wine and the cloudy feeling was caused by actual clouds.

Time to head down as there was more adventure to be had. Though we left the station in the middle of the clouds, our cable car soon dropped below them and gave us a spectacular view of the lake and city below. When we arrived at the mid-station, while many others queued for the second cable car, we made our way over to the Fräkigaudi.

The Fräkigaudi is a mountain luge run – Switzerland’s longest at nearly a mile long. You sit on a small toboggan-like sled with wheels with just a handle in front of you to brake with. You get to the starting point, release the brake and zip down the mountain course. It’s a fairly steep drop, but the track winds its way down through the meadow, past some cows, through a couple tunnels and finishes down below. They then hook you up to a tow line and you and your sled are swept back up to the top.

We had a bit of a wait, but once on the track we had a blast. The starter was wearing a Green Bay Packers hat, so we had a little chat about Aaron Rodgers and their next season Super Bowl chances before taking to the course. Sue went first and we gave her a little head start as we figured I may go a little faster. I don’t know if I looked like a daredevil or if he was a mathematician and was calculating my weight and gravity. Either way, it was fun and I did catch up to Sue right near the bottom.

Fortunately for us, it started to drizzle just a little as we were being towed up, so they had to stop the rides as the track becomes dangerous when wet. Had we gotten there ten minutes later we would have missed out on the ride.

We headed back to the station and took the cable-car down to the town of Kriens. We shared our car with a young couple from Malaysia, who were very nice. Walking to the bus stop, we caught up to our Aussie friends from the ride up. They had also taken the luge ride and loved it. Who says old people can’t have fun?

The bus appeared and ten minutes later we were back in Lucerne.

Sue and I both had the same opinion of the day – Wow!!

Someone we know needed to rest a bit so we headed back to the hotel. All things considered, it was a good day considering the climbing, mini uphill hike to the luge run and then walk to the bus stop.

There was some thunder in the air and a few raindrops falling as dinner time approached. Not wanting to be caught in a heavy downpour or thunderstorm, we made a reservation at a nearby “Pizzeria”.

Well, La Baracca turned out to be a great choice. First, it was three minutes away. Second, they had much more than pizza. And third, the food was awesome. It was a cozy place with both indoor and outdoor seating. While they did serve pizza, they also served a full menu of Italian food and had a great wine list.

So two and a half hours later, we took a nice stroll back to the hotel with full tummies. We had enjoyed a couple of salads with an order of foccacia (that was really like a full pizza, not just the bread we expected), a large order of lasagne and a bottle of Tassinaia. Truly delicious, but truly too much!

As for the rain, it stopped long ago. Our waitress told us not to worry, all the rain falls “Upstairs”. Her meaning – it only rains in the mountains.

Back at the hotel, we rested and digested while looking at the photos from the day before turning in for the night.

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Day 6 – Moving on to Lucerne

Hard to believe our time in Zürich is over. We really enjoyed exploring the city and neighboring areas.

As Zürich is our entry to Switzerland, we could not be happier with our choice. Our favorite things about Zürich are easy to list: very organized, very clean, very friendly people and a little something for everyone. We had a little sticker shock when it came to prices, but we knew it was an expensive city and country.

As we move on, we have fond memories from Zürich and hope to have even more as we go forward.

We were ready to go way earlier than expected, so we checked out and decided to catch an earlier train to Lucerne. We walked over to the train station and waited about a half hour for our train to arrive. The station was pretty busy this morning, but not enough to delay us.

We boarded the train and took our seats in a nearly empty first class car. It’s only a forty-five minute journey through some very scenic country-side and in a blink of an eye we arrived. We have found that first class is not full very often. For the difference in price for our Swiss Pass, it has been well worth not having to search out seats when we board.

Arriving in Lucerne, we easily made our way out of the station and to our hotel – it is literally right next door to the station. We are staying at the Hotel Monopol Luzern -it was built in 1898 and is a beautiful, historically protected building.

Hotel Monopol Luzern

Since we arrived early, our room was not available, so we checked our luggage, grabbed the camera and went down to the lake for a boat ride.

We found a boat that was making a round trip journey that would take about an hour and climbed aboard. The boat was heading to Burgenstock and at that moment, so were we!

It was a beautiful day on the lake. Temperatures in the mid 70’s, light winds, bright sunshine and just a few clouds. It was a great way to be introduced to the Lucerne area. The water, just like in Zürich, was clean and clear. We were in awe of the scenery as we sailed on. Snow-capped mountains, green meadows, fairy tale houses and big, fluffy clouds.

Lake Lucerne scenery

Beautiful lake houses

When we returned to Lucerne, we were still too early to check in, so we took a walk around the old town and the waterfront to see some of Lucerne’s treasured sites. We started at the Chapel Bridge. It’s a covered wooden bridge that spans the river. It was originally built in 1500 and has been rebuilt a couple of times due to damage and fire. It certainly seemed to be the center of everyone’s attention today.

Under the roof of the bridge, there are paintings depicting various historical scenes – some of which were pretty macabre, as they reflected the plague-filled times in which the paintings were completed.

We next zig-zagged our way across the other three bridges that span the river, enjoying the views and getting our bearings for places to see over the next few days.

Walking along the riverfront.

Upstream to the Jesuit Church.

Since the clock was showing 3:00 pm, we headed back to the hotel to claim our room. It was ready and they had already taken our luggage up to the room – Swiss efficiency.

Our room is a nice size with a large bathroom and, much to Sue’s delight, has two big windows that can be opened. Lots of storage space, free Wi-Fi and big fluffy pillows.

We rested up a little before cleaning up for dinner. Tonight we went to a Spanish restaurant that sounded delightful and was close by. The restaurant was called “Bolero” and we had a wonderful meal. A glass of Sangria to get us going, then a bowl of gazpacho followed by a pork dish for Sue and a veal dish for me. We had a bottle of Spanish wine and delicious desserts.

Afterwards we toddled back to the hotel to rest up for tomorrow’s excursion to Mount Pilatus.

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