Apr 252009
 
The Swiss Alps

The Swiss Alps

Someone up there was looking after the weather for us while we were in the Swiss Alps.  We delved deep into our backpacks for hats and sunscreen and made our way up – with the assistance of three cable cars and a train – to Schilthorn at 2970m.

On the way up from our accommodation in Lauterbrunnen, the lush green valley and sheer cliffs (there are 72 waterfalls in the valley) gave way to tall pine forests and increasing snow coverage.  It is in-between seasons at the moment – the skiers are making the most of the last snow and the villagers are getting ready to open for the summer season of biking and hiking.  During the summer there is a triathlon that begins with a swim in the icy water of Lake Thun (Interlaken) and ends 2000m in elevation later after cycling, mountain biking and running!  (Yes, I know triathlons only have three events, but the Swiss do not).

Schilthorn is by no means the highest peak in the Swiss Alps (Jungfrau, 4185m) but it is the second-highest point you can get to by cable car.  The building (built 1968) on Schilthorn was ‘blown-up’ the 007 film, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.’  From the top you have a 360 degree view that includes the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger (the Young Lady, the Monk, and the Ogre) peaks.   I had very itchy feet watching the skiers take off from Schilthorn – must come back in winter!

For lunch, we walked down to Gimmelwald (1363m) from Mürren, about 300m elevation in 30 minutes.    Gimmelwald is quite small and is essentially a farming village with a little bit of tourism.

I’m not sure words such as magnificant and breathtaking do the scenery justice, so here’s a photo gallery of the Alps.

Apr 242009
 
Amy and I at her flat in Ferney

Amy and I at her flat in Ferney

We spent the last 2 nights with my cousin Amy, who lives in Ferney-Voltaire, just past the Swiss/French border in France.  Ferney (as locals prefer to call it – apparently Voltaire was  not a nice guy) is a cute little village, with an excellent boulangerie (bakery) and Indian restaurant.

We spent yesterday touring Geneva, with Amy as our very capable guide.  It was so nice to not have to worry about which bus to catch or how to navigate in the city.  We visited the UN, the botanic gardens, tooks a boat across Lake Geneva and explored the old town.  It was a most glorious spring day and I must confess that Geneva (and in fact, all of Switzerland), now holds a special place in my heart.

Outside the UN

Outside the UN

Thank you so much Amy (and Lis) for having us and showing us the sites.  It was definately one of the highlights of our trip!

Sunny Geneva (note the snow-covered mountain in the background!)

Sunny Geneva (note the snow-covered mountain in the background!)

Apr 222009
 
The lion of Lucerne

The lion of Lucerne

So Mark Twain wrote of the dying lion of Lucerne (Löwendenkmal), a monument to the heroic death of Swiss mercenaries during the French Revolution.  I don’t know if I can agree with his statement.  I’ve seen too little of the world to declare anything “the most” significant.  But it is definitely an amazing sculpture.

Lucerne (Luzern) is a city of approximately 60,000 people, roughly in the centre of Switzerland.  It is the stuff of fairytales, located on a crystal clear lake and river, and surrounded by snow-capped alps.  It has all the mod-cons you could want, housed partly in the picturesque medieval Old Town.  I can see myself living in this town, but don’t worry we’re still coming home!

Lake Lucerne

Lake Lucerne

One of the towns most famous sites is the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) dating from the 14th century.  The bridge contained many medieval paintings under the peaked roof, however much of the bridge (and the art) was destroyed in a fire in 1993.  The efficient Swiss rebuilt the bridge in 6 months, replacing the destroyed artwork with pieces that had been put into storage when the bridge was shortened previously.  I guess there’s something to be said for hoarding!

Chapel Bridge

Chapel Bridge

If I have one complaint about Switzerland so far, it is the exorbitant price of food!  It’s just as well K Rudd’s stimulus package seems to be helping the Australian dollar at the moment, otherwise we might have no money left for the remainder of the trip!

Apr 202009
 
Fraumünster Church, Zurich

Fraumünster Church, Zurich

We made the train trip to Zurich today as it was their spring holiday, Sechseläuten (or Sächsilüüte in Swiss-German) – the literal translation is ringing of the bells at 6pm.  The holiday originated in medieval times where the guilds would celebrate the beginning of summer that gave them some non-working daylight hours.

Throughout the afternoon, the 26 guilds move around the city in a parade of costumes, floats, flowers and horses.  At 6pm the entire parade (of thousands) and even more spectators gather at Sechseläutenplatz for the lighting of the bonfire (13m high), complete with Böögg (i.e. giant 6m paper mache snowman packed with explosives).  We felt for the horses who had to be ridden at pace around the fire whilst the startling explosions from the burning Böögg went on.

The time it takes from lighting the fire until the Böögg’s head explodes is inversely proportional to the length of the upcoming summer.  This year after 12min 55sec the crowd cheered as the head of the Böögg to exploded, indicating Switzerland is in for a average warm summer.  (Last year it took 26″01 – almost the slowest time on record).

Parade gathers around the Böögg

Parade gathers around the Böögg