Our next adventure is a three-week land-based trip to Austria (one week) and Switzerland (two weeks). We fly to Vienna on August 27, arriving August 28, and home from Zurich on September 17.
  • Day22

    The end - for now!

    September 17 in Canada ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    Home, sweet home! No matter how marvellous a trip is - or how long - the final day of travel is always the toughest. Our flight from Zurich Toronto was great - the drive from there home way too long. But here we are ready to resume reality - and coffee that costs less than $6 per cup.

    Twenty days - not counting travel days. According to the ❤️app on my iPhone, our feet covered 217.2 km (average of 10.86 per day). Plus innumerable ups and downs. How are we going to keep up this level of activity!?

    There were so many highlights. But, here are a few:

    1. Swiss Travel Pass coupled with an incredible transportation system that took us from trains to buses to funiculars to gondolas to cable cars.
    2. Eating dinner in Melk, Austria on a patio backlit by the magnificent Melk Abbey.
    3. Watching the summit of the Breithorn appear, clear as a bell, out of the snow storm at the top of the Kleiner Matterhorn.
    4. Huffing and puffing our way uphill from Grutschalp to Murren with the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau watching us the whole way.

    Stay tuned. Our next trip - beginning January 7, 2020 - is a doozy! And, thank you for sharing in our journey.
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  • Day21

    Zonked in Zurich

    September 16 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Well my readers, we have finally reached the last stage - a one-night stand in Zurich before we head back across the pond. We have worn ourselves out and are finding it hard to put one foot in front of the other. The highlight so far was when our hotel room attendant gave us about 20 Swiss chocolate squares which we immediately scarfed down: still no energy!

    We did manage to get out to explore the old town, another amazing jumble of medieval streets replete with tiny shops (mostly selling watches and jewellery) and restaurants.

    Interesting fact. There are 1,224 fountains scattered throughout the city of Zurich. Stadt Zurich employs a whole team of people whose job it is to inspect and check up on the quality of the water in the drinking fountains – and to make sure it is fit to drink at all times. Number one on the list is the Amazonenbrunnen which was the first supplied by spring water and which dates back to 1430. No need to buy bottled water here or anywhere in Switzerland. So, Charlyne, there was no problem with Owen drinking the water out of the fountain in Bern (but, thank you for your concern😀😀).
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  • Day20

    Mommy, it's Ober!

    September 15 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Our final full day in the Berner Oberland region of Switzerland! And, only two sleeps till we head home.

    As planned (and, no doubt, as my readers would expect) we headed up to catch some more great views of mountains and to get in one final hike. The “up” started with a hair-raising bus ride from Interlaken to Beatenberg, an elevation gain of 570m in less than 10km. The bus driver had nerves of steel as she tore around the switchback corners. From Beatenberg, we rode a cable car up to the Niederhorn (elev. 1950m). Coffee inhaled (not too bad a price given the location) and magnificent views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau admired, we broke out the hiking sticks and headed out on one of the many hikes in the area. As drawn on the tourist maps, the hike down to the mid-station of the cable car (Vorsass, elev. 1580m) looks like a one-hour lovely mountain stroll over mountain pastures with alpine horns and Julie Andrews serenading us down. Ha! While the net elevation drop is about 370m, that does not take into account the beginning climb up about 100m and the many up-and-down scrambles over rocky terrain on the way down. It took two hours to reach the destination. We were feeling quite proud of our descent until we saw a six-year old scrambling up the rocks headed UP as we were panting on our descent. How to feel woefully inadequate! All along the route were wonderful views. For our last Swiss hike, this was an awesome choice (even with the mountain goat children on the trail). A total of 6km in about two hours.

    So, tomorrow we travel to Zurich - a two-hour train ride. I am sorry to leave this region and the Alps; there are still so many more mountains to climb!
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  • Day19

    To Bern and back

    September 14 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Today, we took a break from hiking boots and sticks and headed for Bern, the capital of Switzerland. In less than an hour, we were sitting having a coffee (very, very expensive) outside the Hauptbahnhof right on the edge of the walkable historic town. The old town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With 6km of arcades - the locals refer to them as 'Lauben' - it boasts one of the longest weather-sheltered shopping promenades in Europe. You could spend weeks in those arcades and never see the same shop twice. Although there are a few of the usual stores (eg. Lush, MacDonalds), almost all of the shops and restaurants are one of a kind. A plus for us was that Saturday is a big market day in the area right around the Parliament, with over 100 merchants selling everything from soup to nuts - literally! We walked up to the Rosengarten (aptly named) to see the view of the old town. On the route, we stopped to see the Bern bears, the live versions of the heraldic symbol of the city. Back down at the river Aare level, we picked up sandwiches to go and joined the throngs of locals in Münsterplattform, a magnificent park overlooking the river. A good day but not exactly restful; we still managed to cover 14km - at least it was mostly on the level!

    Another word about the train system. A photo below shows the Bern departure board for the period of time from 15:45 to 16:12. In 27 minutes, 26 departures. Eat your heart out VIA Rail!

    Tomorrow is our last day in Interlaken and we have a great hike planned - stay tuned!
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  • Day18

    Piz Gloria - glory, glory!

    September 13 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Today, we climbed again; this time to Piz Gloria, the summit of Schilthorn at 2970 metres above sea level. This may present the most spectacular panorama in the Alps of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau - each day seems to bring a better view. The summit became known in 1969 with the release of the James Bond movie, “In Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. That is the Bond film with the James Bond nobody has ever heard of - George Lazenby. The Piz Gloria has decided to embrace its Bond history and has turned the whole top of the mountain into a shrine to the movie. You can watch clips from the movie, read about the actors and stuntmen, eat a James Bond burger and - probably - have a martini (stirred not shaken). The women’s washroom is signed “Bond Girls”. I am told - I was not there - that over the urinals in the men’s facility is written “Shake - do not stir”. Although it is all a tad over-the-top, the 007 theme cannot surpass the grandeur of the vista.

    We happened upon an interesting event. It seemed to us that there were a lot of men in dark suits with things in their ears milling around. At first, we thought that they were just adding to the Bond ambiance. It turns out that the First Lady of India (Wife of President Ram Nath Kovind) and daughter were at Piz Gloria - hubby was in Bern on a state visit to Switzerland. The security was not at all intrusive; we were wandering within a few metres of the First Lady and one of the Swiss police security guys took a pause to take a photo of the two of us.

    As usual, getting there and back was much of the fun. The trip there consisted of: two trains, one bus and three gondolas. Coming back, we took, two gondolas, a train, a gondola and two trains. Everything connected perfectly - just as we have come to expect.
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  • Day17

    The little engine that does!

    September 12 in Switzerland ⋅ ☀️ 9 °C

    Why would anyone build a steam rack railway to the top of a mountain where nobody lives? And, keep it operating for 125 years? The Swiss, of course, whose motto must be “build it - they will come”. and, sure enough, we come. The Brienz Rothorn Bahn has been in service since 1892 and still makes the 1785m elevation gain in an hour with 350 kilos of coal and 2000 litres of water. We were passengers on the first train of the day starting at 8:36am on a day of clear, blue skies and 15°C weather - perfect. The little steam engine pushed about 100 passengers up one of the most beautiful routes imaginable. Around every switchback corner, a new perfect view of mountains and high cow pastures and streams and . . . Incredible. At the summit, we paused for a coffee and pastry while soaking in the view and planning next steps. From the top, there is a chairlift that runs up and down from Eisee Lake. We hiked down to the lake - about 6km and 400 m drop in elevation. By then it was lunch time and - wouldn’t you know it - there was a cute restaurant waiting for us. We took the chairlift back to the top and then a gondola down the backside of the Rothorn. The only problem with that routing was that we were now on the other side of the range of mountains with no direct route back to Interlaken. Getting “home” involved a bus and two trains which routed us through Bern and took about three hours. Never mind - the whole day was worth it!Read more

  • Day16

    Ballenberg

    September 11 in Switzerland ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    So, today we decided to give our feet a rest and visited Ballenberg, a living Swiss museum depicting life two to three hundred years ago in the rural cantons of Switzerland. Think Heritage Park or Upper Canada Village but considerably older. Some of the timbers in the buildings were from the 1500’s! The various areas and eras depicted occupy 66 hectares of land in the valley and on the hills. Workers were baking bread, making cheese, threshing grain, sawing lumber, etc. all using tools and techniques of the time.

    Having taken trains and a bus to get there, we decided to take a bus to Brienz and a boat along the Brienzersee back to Interlaken.

    Remember that we were saving our feet? We walked 12 kms and over 18,000 steps! At least there were no mountains involved. Tomorrow yes.
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  • Day15

    Swiss Skyline: What a View!

    September 10 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    The three main mountain attractions in the Berner Oberland region are the Eiger, the Mönsch and the Jungfrau. Today, we saw them all from the Mountain View Trail, a trek that took us up and down over some very tough terrain. The trail was advertised as a two-hour “moderate” hike from Grütschalp to Mürren. Ha! First, the tourist office person failed to point out that Mürren is 400m higher in elevation than Grütschalp. Second, the sign posts lie - it was not two hours but more like four. Enough complaining - this was a spectacular hike. All along the route, the three peaks - and many others - floated along the horizon. The app on my iPhone recorded 7km and 90 floors - I believe it.

    As we huffed and puffed along, we came across groups of cows, all with bells making the mountains the amphitheatre for a symphony. The cows are in the process of coming down from their summer on the high mountain pastures - think “Heidi”. Who decides which cow gets the biggest bell? Is it a weekly competition based on milk production?

    We were at the point of complete exhaustion when we came to a restaurant set off all by itself in Sonnenberg far from anything other than a few rustic huts. A few words about cheese in this neck of the woods. I ordered something described on the English translation of the menu as “cheese pie”. I assumed that they meant “quiche”. Wrong. The cheese pie was an inch-thick slab of cheese on a pastry base. Delicious but do not mention this to my GP!

    Once again, the efficiency of the Swiss transportation systems is impressive. To get to the start of our hike, we took two trains and a gondola, all of which were coordinated. The return trip consisted of two gondolas, a bus and train - with no more than two minutes between each. Awesome!
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  • Day14

    From the Matterhorn to the Eiger

    September 9 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    Today, we decamped from Zermatt and headed for Interlaken. But, before we did, we woke up to brilliant blue skies and decided to take a quick morning hike to catch sight of the Matterhorn. What a spectacle! During the next few hours, we travelled by train (two) and boat (one) with a break at Thun to see - want else - a castle! The Thun Castle, which has been around since 1200, occupies a prominent position overlooking the town of Thun and the Thunersee (Thun Lake). We (and our suitcases, now full of dirty clothes) then boarded a boat for a scenic cruise from the west end of Thunersee to the east end, where the town of Interlaken is located. Interlaken is so named because it sits on the spit of land between Thunersee and Brienzersee. We chose to stay here because the town is the centre of the Berner Oberland, the mountainous part of the canton of Bern. On a sunny day like today, there is no end of mountains on view. The most famous mountain is the Eiger; we are out to catch sight of it tomorrow.

    A comment on Swiss economics for visitors - bring lots of money! By Jove, this country is expensive. Coffee (nothing fancy - just caffeine to fuel the body) sets us back about 5 Swiss Francs (about $6.50Cdn). And using a toilet near the Bahnhof cost 1.50 CHF. Our trip up to the Kleiner Matterhorn was 100 CHF - and that was with a 50% discount because we had a Swiss Travel Pass. On the other hand, experiencing the Alps is worth every penny.
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  • Day13

    Right to the top!

    September 8 in Switzerland ⋅ ☁️ 0 °C

    Here we are at the Matterhorn Paradise - elevation 3383m - in the middle of a snow storm. We have a 360° panorama of 38 alpine giants! If only we could see them!

    Hold the phone - or, in this case, the gondola! Just after I wrote the above paragraph, we decided to take the elevator up to the outdoor viewing platform. And, miracles do happen! The clouds began to drift in and out to give us some unbelievable, clear views of the peaks of the Breithorn (4164m) and Matterhorn (4478m). To top it off (bad pun), there was a line of climbers summiting the Breithorn; we could see the thin thread inching upwards. Although it was -11°C and windy, we were both as thrilled as two little kids; indeed, I think that I squealed non-stop while trying to get some good shots. On the cusp of frostbite and high altitude sickness, we left the heights via the return gondolas to the village of Furi, had lunch and hiked down the final 300m of elevation to Zermatt. What a day!Read more