Joined July 2018 Message
  • Day12

    Cogs and Cows

    September 7, 2019 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    As mentioned by Judith, we travelled up to, over and down from several mountain passes to get to Zermatt. At times the climb was so steep the train would lose traction normally. However the Swiss engineers solved that problem decades ago! There is a strip of notched steel embedded between the tracks (cogs) which the engine hooks unto with a great clunk and shudder and then cranks it’s way to the top. Tomorrow’s train to the top of the world is cogs all the way. Yesterday and this morning we rode up in funiculars which are on rails but pulled by a cable between the tracks. Cog trains couldn’t go that steep. Finally, for the REALLY high mountain trips, we ride on gondolas 🚠on cables through the sky. Great stuff!

    Oh yeah, the cows. Even at the highest elevations, there are cows munching away up on the hills. Quite a few are the classic Swiss brown cows complete with big bells 🔔 clanking away. Probably on the Swiss tourism payroll 😀
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  • Day12

    Zoning in Zermatt

    September 7, 2019 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 3 °C

    Here we are high in the alps in Zermatt. We arrived late yesterday after the magnificent trip on the Glacier Express from Samedan. The trip is anything but “express”, taking about eight hours to travel a distance of 291 km. But what a special eight hours! The train took us over 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels. The highest point of the journey is 2033m at the Oberalppass, which had just received a significant dump of snow; the scene was blindingly white. The weather was not terrific but good enough to enjoy most of the awesome scenery.

    Upon arrival in Zermatt, we found our way to our hotel, the Backstage Hotel Vernissage. Sleeping here is less like being in a hotel than being part of a modern art installation!

    This morning, we awoke to totally socked-in weather - but no rain, thankfully. We took an underground funicular from Zermatt (1620m elev.) up to Sunnegga (2288m elev.). We then proceeded to hike back down to Zermatt through a beautiful pine and larch forest. Since the entire area is a ski resort in the winter, we wandered past many ski trails of differing difficulties - some pretty gnarly runs. Speaking of skiing, in Zermatt, we passed a group of teenagers dragging their skis and equipment; they were headed to the 21km of pistes located on the glacier near the top of the Kleine Matterhorn. Over one hundred ski teams from 22 countries train on the glacier as they get ready for the next winter season.

    The weather is supposed to improve tomorrow. Regardless, we are headed right to the top - the Matterhorn glacier paradise, elevation 3883m - and also to Gornergrat.

    (My apologies for the out-of-order photos - I am an e-idiot.)
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  • Day10

    Bernina - not just a sewing machine!

    September 5, 2019 in Switzerland ⋅ 🌧 11 °C

    Today, we travelled over the Bernina Pass by railway. From a starting point of Pontresina (very close to where we are staying in Samedan), the little red train spirals up to over 2200m elevation before dropping precipitously to the town of Poshiavo and then further down to the Italian town of Tirano. At times, the tracks curve around so sharply that you can see the other end of the train, framed by a magnificent mountain backdrop! Surprisingly, the weather held up for our trip until we reached the Bernina Pass on the return trip. Then the rain - mixed with some wet snow - began. By the time we reached the valley where the three towns of Samedan, Pontresina and St. Moritz are located, the clouds and rain had settled in. In spite of the weather, we headed up the funicular to Muottas Muragl where we had tea looking out at - nothing! We were completely socked in. Still a good trip.

    Tomorrow, we leave Samedan and the fabulous Engadine region of Switzerland and head for the Matterhorn.

    What a wonderful trip we are having!
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    Owen Snider

    I have been SO impressed by the engineering feats evident in the building of this rail line up and over the pass and the one we travelled yesterday as well - the tunnels and viaducts and places where the track is literally hanging on the side of the mountain. To think that the original line was put through early in the last century!

    9/5/19Reply
    Patricia Le Saux

    Beautiful photos! Enjoy!

    9/6/19Reply
    Charlyne Murphy

    What a wonderful time you two are having but oh my word you are sure spending a lot of time up in the clouds it seems. My ears would be popping like mad but a small price to pay for such magnificent views. The train systems that you have been using sound beyond perfect, the best way to travel. Anxious to here what tomorrow brings.

    9/6/19Reply
     
  • Day9

    There are freebies!

    September 4, 2019 in Switzerland ⋅ ☀️ 12 °C

    Judith the master planner had our 3 days in Samedan covered with a suite and meals at the Hotel Donatz. To our surprise, on check in we were presented with an Engadine card covering trains, buses, gondolas, etc in the area as well as with a pass to the spa down the street! What a pleasure after today’s adventures to soak in warm pools and tubs and sit in the steam room.

    I have attached a couple photos from today as well.
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  • Day9

    A Day of Wows!!

    September 4, 2019 in Switzerland ⋅ ☀️ 10 °C

    Given that today was beautiful (20C, not a cloud in sight) and that the weather is going downhill for tomorrow, we headed for the hills/mountains. Two trains, two buses, two gondolas and 11km on foot!

    We started with a train to Preda. It was only a 13 minute ride - but what a ride! This is part of the train system that takes trains through the Abula Pass. The first stage, from Samedan to Preda includes a tunnel of over 5km length. This tunnel, which opened in 1905, is now in the process of being replaced with a brand new tunnel set to open in 2021. In the 7km between Preda and Bergün, the train descends 442m through an ingenious system of spiral tunnels and loops. By hiking the 7km, we could see how the train negotiates the route. More than that, we saw the grandeur of the Engadine mountains. While the hike was mostly down, it included some tough sections around streams and on the edge of cliffs. We had the space to ourselves - maybe three other hikers. After lunch (and a badly needed WC), we took the train back along the same route to St. Moritz. On to adventure #2!

    From St. Moritz, we took a bus to the bottom of Corvatsch, a huge ski area near St. Moritz. Two gondolas swept us up to the top elevation of 3300m - that is 1500m from the bottom. The 360 views were stunning! the highest peak we could see was Piz Bernina, elev. 4050m. The locals refer to peaks over 4000m as “4000ers”.
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    Patricia Le Saux

    Looking good!

    9/6/19Reply
     
  • Day8

    Heart of the Engadine

    September 3, 2019 in Switzerland ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    Here we are ensconced in our lovely room at the Hotel Donatz in Samedan. Trains go literally everywhere from here. Tomorrow we hike from one mountain station to another while trains twirl thru tunnels and over high bridges above us (mostly downhill I’m told).

    Our room package includes breakfast and dinner. If tonight’s dinner is any indication, we will need those hikes 😀
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    Charlyne Murphy

    So pretty, especially the last photo, the one with the white cottage. I half expected Julie Andrews to come spinning over the hill belting out a verse of “ the Hills are Alive”.

    9/3/19Reply
     
  • Day8

    Gotta love a castle (Tarasp)

    September 3, 2019 in Switzerland ⋅ ☀️ 9 °C

    We are now in Switzerland, after a train and two buses. The scenery along the route was spectacular. When our bus reached the Bahnhof in Scuol, we hopped off, threw our suitcases into a locker (they have them at all the stations) and headed out. Also at the Scuol station, we picked up this amazing super high-speed wi-fi gizmo; I booked it on line. At the end of our trip, we throw it into a post box and walk away! We can connect all our devices (2 phones and 2 ipads).

    Enough technical stuff! The main reason to take a break in Scuol was to travel to the tiny hamlet of Tarasp where we climbed to the Tarasp Castle. Originally built in the 11th century, the castle has a prominent view over the valley. At every corner of the switchback walking trail up from the bus stop to the castle, a different and more stunning view point presented itself. Simply wonderful!

    It is not quite 3pm here in Tarasp as I write this - looking up at the castle we just visited. A 10-minute bus ride takes us back to Scuol. When we arrive at 3:25pm, there will be about 10 buses coming from all directions at the same time. At 3:30pm, they will all take off to assorted destinations. We will be on the bus to Susch which will then connect to a train to Samedan. The degree of precision and coordination of the Swiss travel system is incredible.
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    Charlyne Murphy

    Magnificent mountain vista and that looks like one inviting pool in the second shot.

    9/3/19Reply
     
  • Day7

    Rainy-day Rambling

    September 2, 2019 in Austria ⋅ 🌧 16 °C

    We woke up to serious rain. Being in the mountains in the rain is an experience; while the clouds enshroud the peaks most of the time, every few minutes a corner lifts to show a rock face or mountain top. Plan A (hiking to an alpine hut) was changed to Plan B - some Innsbruck city sights and a quick train ride (9 minutes) to the medieval town of Hall in Tyrol.

    We began with the Hofkirche, which is more of a shrine to Emperor Maximillian I (1459-1519) than a church. The church was built in 1553 by Emperor Ferdinand I (1503–1564) as a memorial to his grandfather. The main nave of the church is filled with an ornate black marble cenotaph surrounded by 28 larger-than-life bronze statues of Grandpa Max’s family and friends. Very impressive! And a little weird given that old Max is buried somewhere else (except for his heart which was sent to Bruges).

    Our second stop was the Folkmuseum. Now, those of you who know us know that we do NOT spend much time in museums. Two reasons for going to this one: (a) it was included in the ticket for the Hofkirche; and (b) it is attached to the Hofkirche, meaning that we did not have to go out in the pouring rain. As museums go, it was ok - lots of examples of how Tyrolian (don’t call them Austrian) folks lived in the old days.

    After lunch, we headed for the Hauptbahnhof for the short ride to Hall in Tyrol, one of those amazingly cute medieval towns. From the 13th century, the salt mine at Absam in the Hall Valley north of the town formed the main industry of the town and its surroundings and made the town very wealthy. Salt has now been replaced with tourism. The town is still wealthy! The buildings of the old town have been beautifully restored.

    Tomorrow, we head into Switzerland, catching a train, three buses and a train to reach Samedan. The weather is supposed to improve for at least the next two days.
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    Charlyne Murphy

    Grandpa Max certainly went out in style, wonder why he is in one place and his heart in another. What a Laundromat you went to, a necessary stop for sure and interesting I bet. Keep up the good reporting, I look forward to the stories and photographs.

    9/2/19Reply
     
  • Day6

    Getting there is all the fun!

    September 1, 2019 in Austria ⋅ 🌧 26 °C

    We began our day in Melk with a walkabout - taking in views of the Abbey at every turn. Then, on to the train station (Bahnhof) for a 15 minute flip to St. Pölten on a regional train and 3hr and 44min (and not one minute more or less!) to Innsbruck on a RailJet train. As the train sped along, the view gradually changed from flat agricultural land to hills to mountains. Most of the final 30 minutes of the trip was in a tunnel with speeds over 200km/hr. The ride was smooth as silk.

    Our hotel in Innsbruck is a five minute walk from the Bahnhof and right on the edge of the old city of Innsbruck. After dumping our bags, we headed out to explore. Yesterday, our background was the impressive Melk Abbey - today, we have the towering Alps. We finally have hit a change in the weather; rain has begun and is scheduled to continue through tomorrow. Ah well - we’ve had it good so far! We will find rainy-day activities in the Tyrol (eating and drinking come to mind).

    Owen here - my comment to Judith about our peaceful start to the day in Melk “You know, I can see a person coming here for an extended stay in order to write that great novel we all have in us”. The place just calms you down in spite of yourself.
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    Charlyne Murphy

    How fun zooming place to place by Train. Great photos and no, everyone should have crystal encrusted household products in their pantry. The Rum and Pepsi drinker, Alain, would love the Pepsi bottle.

    9/1/19Reply
     
  • Day5

    Melk and the Amazing Abbey

    August 31, 2019 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    The weather is still hot, hot, hot. But that is supposed to change over the next few days; snow is forecast for Zermatt by the time we get there in a week.

    We began the day in Vienna with a morning stroll (quick trot) to the Schloss Belvedere Gardens. Those Hapsburgs sure knew how to spend money!

    We then found our way, with all our bags, to the main train station for a 12:30pm train to Melk. The first 25 minutes of the trip were on an express train which reached speeds of 225 km/hr. That sure as heck beats the Via Rail train to Toronto! We were in Melk and checked into our hotel before 3pm.

    Melk is best known for the Stift Melk, a Benedictine Abbey founded in 1089 when Leopold II gave the monks one of his castles (nice to have castles to give away). The present structure was built in 1702. It’s big - about 500 rooms and 1300 windows - and slathered in ornate decoration. The library holds about 100,000 volumes - some dating back to the 9thC. Due to a fear of fire, there is no heating in the library. Last year, 550,000 people visited Melk. The Abbey is also home to a co-ed secondary day school for 900 students of the region.

    The town of Melk is cute as a button, with winding cobbled streets and alleys. Good beer and good food.

    Tomorrow, we are off to Innsbruck.
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    Charlyne Murphy

    Beautiful Abbey, and amazing how old these buildings are and still standing as stately as they were when first constructed. We certainly won’t see that with the structures we are building today.

    9/1/19Reply
    Charlyne Murphy

    On another note, I wish I was young again so I could be one of the 900 Students lucky enough to study there. What an experience.

    9/1/19Reply
     

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