Tag Archives: mountains

Day 18 – Luzern and Zurich

Lake Luzern, swans, mountains

Lake Luzern, swans, mountains

Luzern is a lovely city. I’d been there before, around twenty-five years ago. I suppose it must have changed, but not in the bits we saw in a brief stopover. The mountains tower over the lake, the white swans fight for bragging rights and food, and the neat houses along the foreshore of the old town still reflect nicely in the water.

The view from the covered bridge

The view from the covered bridge

The old bridge

The old bridge

One of the panels set in the roof rafters of the covered bridge

One of the panels set in the roof rafters of the covered bridge

The old covered bridge across the river burnt down a year or so after I was there before. Luckily not all the lovely medieval illustrations in the rafters were destroyed and they were put back when the bridge was rebuilt.

Our charming wait person

Our charming wait person

You already know about the old town – cobble-stoned squares, outdoor furniture, people, coffee, food. We picked a small café for lunch and enjoyed a bit of back and forth with one of the girls who worked there. She said she didn’t mind if her photo was on Facebook.

The fabulous lion monument

The fabulous lion monument

Of course we visited the lion monument. It brought me to tears the first time I saw it, and did so again this time. The dying lion is a tribute to the Swiss mercenaries who died trying to defend Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, against the mob who came for them at the Tuileries Palace in 1792. That’s why there’s a fleur de lys on the shield under the lion’s paw. Here’s the Wiki version of the story.

There comes in point in every tour where your mind knows it’s going home. That’s what happened here. We bought a few souvenirs for friends back home. Then on to Zurich.

The Zurich railway station from our hotel room

The Zurich railway station from our hotel room

Detail of paintwork above the window arches in the museum

Detail of paintwork above the window arches in the museum

We stayed in another Schweizerhof hotel in Zurich.  The restaurant manager welcomed the whole group with a glass of champagne or orange juice if that took your fancy. Once again, the hotel was in the heart of town, opposite the railway station. Once again, we elected to meander around on our own. You guessed it – cobble-stoned squares, chairs and tables out on the pavement, food, coffee, wine. Of course there are a number of historic buildings. One which attracted our notice was the Swiss national museum. It’s not specially old, dating back to 1898, but it is rather splendid. We took special note of the art work under the eaves.

Taking note of our success in finding a reasonably priced meal in the railway station at Bern, we went across to the railway station to see what was on offer there. We found a shop which was part of the Nordsee chain, offering fish for sale, as well as a cafeteria style eatery. Yes, we could buy alcohol. So we came back at the appropriate hour. Pete had a swordfish steak with new potatoes, and I ordered fish (species unknown) with white asparagus and new potatoes. It was certainly our cheapest dinner in Switzerland and one of the nicest.

Breakfast turned out to be more along the lines we expected – buffet style, with options such as poached eggs available by order. And they made the toast for you! The restaurant manager, a little man who reminded me a bit of Hercule Poirot with a sense of humour, entertained everybody with a bit of lively repartee.

And that was that. We were off to Zurich airport, and on our way home.

Day 17 – Through the mountains to Bern

I'll bet the ghost of Nabokov site here an gazes at the mountains

I’ll bet the ghost of Nabokov sits here and gazes at the mountains

I can see why Montreux has captivated people over the centuries. Every day the lake and its guardian mountains look a little bit different. This morning the sky was cloudless and the peaks were etched against the blue sky. I wanted pictures but we had breakfast first. Even as I ate, a first wisp of misty cloud materialised above the snow. It was as if the mountains made their own climate. And over there along the lake fingers of grey were advancing.

Calling, “I’ll see you downstairs,” over my shoulder, I raced off to grab the camera and run across the road to the lakeside.

One last look, and we were on the bus for the drive to Bern. We headed along the Rhone valley, then started up into the mountains. It’s a two lane road, steep and winding, with quite a few hairpin bends. Those sitting on the cliff side of the coach got an eyeful of precipitous cliffs and rushing water. And everybody got to see the awesome alpine scenery. Once again, I kept the camera out of action until I just couldn’t stand it any longer. I would have LOVED to have stopped for ten minutes in one of the tiny villages in the valleys for a photo stop, but it didn’t happen until we got to Glacier 3000, a large lodge with a cable car running up to the top of the range. A few skiers were taking advantage of the recent snow for a few last runs down the mountain. As a photo opportunity I could have passed. But this was also a toilet stop, with lots of room for coaches. Among them were two RAF buses. I don’t know why. It’s just interesting.

We stopped for lunch at Gstaad, a ski village for the rich and famous. It seemed every person who ever got on the cover of Woman’s Weekly had stayed there. The shops were all designer label, with attendant price tags. Me, I’m a Philistine. I can see no point in paying thousands of dollars for a watch that will tell the time no better than my mobile phone. Worse, actually, because you have to work out where the big hand and the little hand are. As for paying thousands for a dress… let’s not go there.

We had an excellent lunch, well cooked and served promptly. It’s not an easy task to feed forty people at one sitting. Oh – if you’re into that sort of thing, the formation of the Alps is fascinating. Read all about it here.

The road through the mountains

The road through the mountains. The bus had  steering in the rear wheels as well as the front, so it could negotiate the many hairpin bends

More scenery from the bus

More scenery from the bus

An interesting gaggle of cows doing... something

An interesting gaggle of cows doing… something

Lowlands with mountains from the bus

Lowlands with mountains from the bus

Glacier 3000

Glacier 3000, with enormous parking area

Then on to Bern, admiring more mountains as we drove.

We were to overnight in Bern, but before we reached the hotel we stopped at a beautiful garden above the city. It’s a gorgeous place, with many, many people enjoying the sunshine.

Bern's beautiful public gardens

Bern’s beautiful public gardens

The old city of Bern from the gardens on the hill

The old city of Bern from the gardens on the hill. All the rivers had that aqua colour. Chalk in the water? Snow melt?

Our guide took those interested for a walk through the old city. We weren’t the only ones who didn’t join her. It’s not fair on the cities, but you do tend to suffer from city overload. Pete and I wandered around by ourselves. It was late afternoon and the tables and chairs were out in the cobble-stoned squares, with people eating and drinking. And a LOT were smoking. The fact we noticed shows how successful we’ve been in Australia, cutting back that nasty habit. We were looking for somewhere to have dinner. Our driver had recommended a place in Bern, but the online reviews (quite a few) suggested the place was very anti-foreigner, so we decided not to bother. Instead, we checked out the central railway station, opposite the hotel, where we found a bar and eatery offering simple food at a reasonable price. (Don’t translate to AU$) I’m just about all pizza’ed out after this tour.

The hotel was the Schweizerhof, an old building which had been gutted and rebuilt as a swish hotel with modern design. So modern I didn’t realise there was a drawer in the bathroom vanity. I found out when I rang reception to ask where the hairdryer was. Hmph. I’m old.

Some of the high tech needed some adjustment, too. After we went to bed the hall light came on every half hour. After he’d turned it off three times, at 11:30 Pete rang reception. He wasn’t impressed when the clerk found it funny. We also think it was a known fault because when he came up to our room he had the right tool and knew exactly where to look. He told us the bathroom light wouldn’t work now – but hey, it was nearly midnight. Travelling throws up some unexpected experiences.

In fact, the next unexpected experience was at breakfast, which was included in the tariff everywhere we stayed. The usual thing in most hotels is a buffet offering cereal, fruit, pastries, cheese, cold meats, and a few hot dishes in warmers – sausages, bacon, and scrambled eggs etc. This had been our experience so far. But not in the Schweizerhof, Bern. We arrived in the restaurant, waiting to give our room number. A flustered young woman took one look at us, muttered something in German, and plunged off to parts unknown. When we’d finished looking at each other (we’d showered and everything) someone else from our group crooked a finger at us. “Take a seat,” he said. “She’ll come back and fix things.”

This hotel, it seems, did al la carte breakfast for everything. And they didn’t have enough staff. We watched that same young woman charging around as though she had a firecracker up her arse, taking orders, putting out dishes and generally getting things done. Cereal, fruit and what-have-you arrived on one of those silver towers they use to serve high tea. We ordered poached eggs with bacon and tomato, which arrived in due course, freshly cooked and just as it should be.

And then we climbed onto the coach to travel to the lovely old city of Luzern, then Zurich before we head on home.

 

Day 15 – Montreux, playground of the rich and famous

Sunlight on the poppies with the mountains in the background

Sunlight on the poppies with the mountains in the background

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin

We were scheduled to spend two days at Montreux on the banks of Lake Geneva, staying in the Montreux Palace, now a five star hotel. We arrived at the lakeside at the town of Vevey, where Charlie Chaplin spent his last years. There’s a statue of him here and several people took photos.

The promenade at Vevey

The promenade at Vevey – picture by PT

Then back on the coach for the short trip to our hotel.

The views over the lake are breathtaking. The mountains rear above the lake, sketching a line between France and Switzerland. The lake shore is a long promenade, encouraging visitors to walk along and admire the view. It seems quite a few artistic types were drawn to this place, like Freddie Mercury. In fact Montreux hosts a music festival. Statues of a number of top performers can be seen in a garden near the lake – Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Ray Charles. And for some reason known only to the Swiss, Vladimir Nabokov. He did live here, and died in Montreux. But I don’t think he was noted for his music.

Needless to say the local shops boast all the top brands – Armani, Rolex, Givenchy etc etc. We didn’t go shopping. After a quick look around the local restaurants we decided to eat at one of the hotel restaurants, since it wasn’t much more expensive than everywhere else. We would have liked to have pork knuckle with sauerkraut, but the server returned to the table to tell us it wasn’t available, so we had chicken. Beautifully cooked, far too much (but we should have realised) and served with nothing. If you wanted vegetables, that was extra. We had a main course with one ‘extra’ each, Pete had 2 beers and I had 2 glasses of local wine. That turned out to be something like AU$170. But hey -we’re on holiday. The following day we ate at an Italian restaurant – lasagne for me, pretty ordinary spaghetti marinara for him, a glass of wine, a beer. AU$120. Switzerland is a very expensive place.

Anyway, let’s get on with the photos.

Lake Geneva with swan

Lake Geneva with swan

Swan

Swan

They provided chairs set into the rocks so you can enjoy the view in comfort

They provided chairs set into the rocks so you can enjoy the view in comfort

Montreux Palace with statue of Nabokov in the foreground

Montreux Palace with statue of Nabokov in the foreground

IMG_3856

Lounge

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Dining room

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald

Freddie Mercury - his statue isn't with the jazz singers, it's down on the water's edge

Freddie Mercury – his statue isn’t with the jazz singers, it’s down on the water’s edge.

Tomorrow we’re going on two fabulous visits. Come and join us. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them as much as we did.

 

 

Day 14 – Gruyere – mountains, cows and cheese

Gruyere from the bus - before we drove up the hill

Gruyere from the bus – before we drove up the hill

Ah, mountains. And scenery. And grass and animals. There’s no doubt where my heart is happier. We hopped on a bus with thirty-four other passengers and headed for the hills as fast as we could make it. Maybe there are sights to see in Basel, but we didn’t see them.

For me, I couldn’t wait to see the mountains, and I resisted the temptation to take pictures through the windows for quite a while. Pete didn’t, snapping away at every opportunity. I did eventually cave, but really, there’s no point unless the bus is stationary. Even then you’re just as likely to get reflections in your shots. Like that one at the top.

The weather was perfect, the snow-capped peaks glittering in the sun, and the meadows so green they hardly seemed real. We made our first stop around 11am, an impromptu visit to the fortified town of Gruyere, where the cheese comes from. Apparently we were scheduled to visit there the following day, but the guide and driver decided the weather was so good it would be a shame to risk the forecast rain for tomorrow.

The village is gorgeous, perched up in the foothills with a dramatic backdrop of beautiful mountains, Cows came out of their barns to enjoy the lush grass. In the village women dressed in their local costumes made their way to work in the coffee shops and restaurants. And we found a free toilet. (Don’t laugh. You could expect to pay CHF0.50 to use a public loo – that’s 75c Australian)

The view from the ramparts - cows and mountain and spectacular green

The view from the ramparts – cows and mountain and spectacular green

The cobble-stoned central square

The cobble-stoned central square

Towards the town gate

Towards the town gate

Gruyere means 'crane'. We saw them everywhere on the houses

Gruyere means ‘crane’. We saw them everywhere on the houses

The inevitable church perched at the end of the village

The inevitable castle perched at the end of the village

Two churches, two styles

Castle and church

AltIMG_3783hough it was early, we’d been told this would be a lunch stop, so we selected one of the many restaurants and tried to order a meal. It was too early. Lunch orders would not be taken until 11:30. OK. We had a cup of coffee, instead. They serve it black, with a side of cream that comes in a chocolate container, which you then eat. Saves washing up.

When we’d finished the coffee the woman came to us with her money bag for payment. Pete asked if we could order lunch now (11:20) and was told that this was a different person, she only did coffee. Fine. We paid for the coffee and waited for a wait person to appear. We’d cruised through the menu, looking for a sandwich or something. Eventually we decided upon half a quiche with salad, an entry in the starters menu. We were due to leave at 12:30, and the food did take a looong time to arrive, but it was worth it, fresh and delicious, with a Swiss version of a salad.

Serving sizes are HUGE in Switzerland. So pleased we didn’t ask for a main course.

Half a gruyere quiche with salad. It was delicious.

Half a gruyere quiche with salad. It was delicious. The salad is fine sliced curly cabbage, red and yellow capsicum, a radish, cubed beetroot and lettuce wrapped in a thin slice of zucchini

From Gruyere we drove down to Lake Geneva to Montreux, a haunt of the rich and famous. I’ll write about that in the next post.