Day 5/6 – Zermatt and the Matterhorn

Previous: Day 4 – Wengen and the Jungfrau Glacier

That trip to the Top of Europe (Jungfrau glacier) was the best experience so far since we arrived in Switzerland four days ago!  Now we have to do another high altitude experience, the 4,478 meters high and world famous Matterhorn!  No, we are not climbing to the top, we will merely attempt to get as close as we can to see it and that’s where our next destination will be –  Zermatt.  From Wengen to Zermatt, it takes 3 hours and 4 changes of trains…holy cow!  But no panic, the Swiss train network is as perfect as can be so getting on and off trains will just be a breeze.  And in order to reduce the possibility of missing our trains, we asked everyone, even if the answer is right infront of our eyes, we asked!  Imagine, if we didn’t do that, it would be horrendous running around and getting lost with our heavy luggages! 

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From Wengen going down to Lauterbrunnen were we caught our train to Interlaken, the scenery is a sight to behold.  Waterfalls, lovely church spires,  mountains and picturesque villages.

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On the trains, we got seated on the same cars as these passionate backpackers who take mountain/ice climbing seriously.

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This is the church-spire of St Niklaus seen on the Visp-Zermatt leg of our train journey.

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Our train arriving in Zermatt station

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Omega clock on the train station!  This is where we bought our tickets for a cogwheel train ride up to Gornergrat, 3,089 m in altitude

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On our way up, we see ski lift and cable car stations such as this one.

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..and hikers, too!  That’s the Matterhorn covered in the clouds!

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Such pristine beauty!

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I couldn’t stop clicking my camera for all these awesome view!

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After some 45 minutes of continuous climbing, we got off the station in Gornergrat.  You can see the same train going back down.

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Getting out of the train, we have to feed our tickets to these barriers so we could get in.  It’s the same when going out.

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Some of the passengers went off in their hiking gears as soon as we got out of the train.

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The map showing Zermatt below and where we are now (top, encircled)

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The train station seen from our viewing deck.

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I wanted so much to pose like them but I have fear of heights!

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Sleep tight, monsieur!

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Time to sit for a drink…and for the camera!

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Gornergrat church

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and a Gornergrat vendor.  She’s selling watercolour paintings of this beautiful scenery!

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The majestic Matterhorn!

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A family of hikers

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On our train trip down, we had to stop few times to pick some passengers.  This is a mirror on one of the the train stops reflecting the passengers getting on the train 

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A better view of the Matterhorn.  Does it remind you of something?  The “Summit” mineral water bottle of course!

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Hop, we are going down…

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Back in Zermatt, it’s like there is a hotel facade beauty competition!

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or a flower display contest…

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Nice!

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Zermatt, like Wengen, is a carless town.  Only electric vehicles ply the streets.  Our taxi driver tells us that only ambulances, police cars and fire trucks are allowed to run on diesel.   A fully charged electric vehicle runs only up to 7 hours, hence, their cars are fitted with two electric engines so that one acts as a reserve for the other.

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Notice the small size of their vehicles.  They run smoothly and very efficient for heavy luggages.

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After our Gornergrat cog train trip, it’s time to hit the cable-car express!

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And by “Express”, it means you don’t even have time to stifle a cry as you will be very busy holding on to the rails!

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The cable car station stopping midway, in Schwarzsee

Unfortunately, we went on too late, at 4pm, they close at 5pm.  The ticket seller says we need at least 3 hours to enjoy the Glacier Paradise which is the highest stop of the the Cable-Car express.   “It doesn’t matter”, we told her, “we just want to experience the  cable car!”.  She says we have 45 minutes remaining and that includes the ride going up and back down.  It’s okay, we thought.  We have been to the Jungfrau Glacier and the experience is probably the same.

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This is the Schwarzsee stop.  Getting hungry is no problem as there are restaurant signs placed on strategic spots.

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Here it is.  We found it, hurray!  But we can’t eat, there’s no time, argghhh!

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Neat!  this must be for mountain bikes (there’s a lot of them who go up there!) needing some screws tightened.  You see this facility just outside the cable car station.

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A quick information before you set out to hike

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The Matterhorn again, seen from the cable car going down

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It’s like Switzerland in miniature! 

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The big town of Zermatt in the valley below

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Farm cottages

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Back on flat land, we saw these strange things.  Ahh, it’s for storing your skis but you have to insert 2CHF to unlock and lock the thing.

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Time to do some serious sightseeing now.  This is the old part of Zermatt where we got to see ancient chalets.

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An outdoor museum!

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The cross with its typically-alpine roofing, to protect it from snow

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This one too..

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Young shephers suddenly arrived with their flock of goats, great opportunity for picture taking! 

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The next morning, before we checked out of the hotel to catch our train to Geneva, I woke up early to do some photography.  This is taken from the bridge just outside of our hotel.  A cloudless view of the Summit…errr..Matterhorn mountain. 

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On zoom…

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And the cemetery which is in the center of the town, just next to the church.  There is a big space dedicated for mountaineers around the world who died trying to climb the Matterhorn.

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The Parish Church of St Mauritius built in 1913

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The Police Station

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An alpine mailbox

Next: Day 7 – Geneva

Day 4 – Wengen and the Jungfrau Glacier

Previous: Day 3 – Interlaken, Switzerland

We had our hotel booked in Wengen so from Interlaken, we caught the train to Lauterbraunnen (30 mins) then changed to another train for Wengen (15mins)

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The Lauterbrunnen train station

No need to search for a train arrival/departure board as the cog wheel train to Wengen stands on the quai that says “Wengen”.  There were so much tourists of various nationalities; the camera-toting tour groups of Chinese, Japanese and few Indians who would pose all over the rail tracks, below rail notices, next to luggage lockers, alongside the rail fencing and every standing structure there is, while the Europeans are geared to the max with their telescopic hiking sticks, polar jackets, rock-climbing shoes, and some passionates with their hiking gears such as snow axe, ropes,  anchors, helmets, etc. 

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We arrived in Wengen a little before 8pm but it was still light, thank goodness.  Now our first job is to find a way to find our hotel.  It’s supposed to be only walking distance from the station, well, Wengen is but an alpine village and every place is walking distance.   Besides, there is no public transport here, with the exception of a cable car,  and it is illegal to have a car.  It is a pedestrianized village, their only way of preserving the clean air environment.

There is a large electronic map at the station and we only had to press the button next to where our hotel’s name is written and voila, a long red light flashed up on the map, connecting the spot “You are here” (which is at the train station, of course!) up to the spot where our hotel is located.  Seconds later, we were walking along the narrow snaking road going up the hill, a bit steep, if you ask me as we were struggling to pull our heavy luggages up!

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It is so easy not to get lost because there are clusters of signs directing you to your hotel or even to a pub, and they are even color-coded, such utopia!

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This is the view from our hotel room window.  Such a postcard beauty!  The building on the left is the cable car station and the street below is the main street which is typically quiet except for the noise coming from the travellers’ rolling luggages.

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Tourists wheeling their luggages up to their hotel. 

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One can phone the hotel for a pick-up but with the miniscule size of the vehicle, they can only take on the elderly and those with reduced mobility. 

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And these vehicles run totally on electricity.

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The only diesel-run vehicles exempt from plying Wengen roads are ambulances, fire trucks and police cars.  Even these are sized only a little bigger than a rubbish bin to adapt to the narrow roads.

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The picturesque mountain village of Wengen is situated at an altitude of 1274meters, on a sheltered terrace high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley at the foot of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountain ranges! 

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It is also a flowered village.  The only houses that have no flower displays are the abandoned ones.

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The cable car station with cars as big as a bus leave the village every few minutes, to go up the peak of Mannlichen, a good starting point for hiking activities.

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We went hiking the next morning and it was such fun exploring the flora and fauna, including a giant slug slowly crawling on this road.

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Charming facades of chalets that are like museum showcases.

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Every house and building has to be bedecked with geraniums, so lovely!

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Next day, we set out for our trip to the Top of Europe – the Jungfrau glacier.  So much tourists also waiting for the same train.

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Noticeable is the large amount of Chinese tourists.

The trip to the Top of Europe

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This is the cog railway starting from Interlaken all the way to Wengen and continuing up to the Jungfrau.  The cogwheel of the train meshes into the toothed rail (seen in photo) so the train could climb up steep hills.

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We boarded the train and as it slowly ascended to the top, we see hikers preferring to climb on foot rather than by train. 

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Climbing up

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Maintenance work along the way is continuing.  Mountains are eternally eroding and it is important to build strong retention walls to keep it from crumbling down, or at least, to minimize the damage as a consequence.

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Fantastic scenery.  No wonder their cattle produces such delicious milk, the grass is free from any forms of air pollution.

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I think the bell is too heavy for him, he seems to be straining from the bell’s weight…

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Wow! that must be liters of milk!

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Alpine flowers

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..and snow fences

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…and family hikers

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Small patches of lakes of the purest water, you can probably drink from it.

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Terrace above the clouds and snow

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Slate-roofed houses and frozen waterfalls

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The highest street signs in Europe

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After some 40 minutes of negotiating a long tunnel, the train stopped for 5 minutes on this spot to allow the passengers to have a quick view of the glacier panorama

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And this is what we saw from the window!  the purest white blanket of snow!

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Then after few more minutes, we finally arrived at the Jungfrau village, a whole complex of restaurants, shops, cinema, Ice Palace and observatory deck built at the top of the Jungfrau. 

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Inside the Ice Palace where I struggled to walk on ice.

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And enjoyed posing next to ice sculpture of seals

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and bears

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and penguins, too!

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Tourists posing by the ice walls

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Some people just can’t leave a place without leaving their mark.  This is part of the railing on the icy wall where one has to hold tight so as not to slide.  I was sliding all the time!  The soles of my shoes are so worn out, they are actually as smooth as a baby’s skin, no wonder they cannot grip on ice!

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Even at nearly 3,500m above, advertising is still good business.  They have to use ice-proof printing material, I supposed.

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This was our way of leaving our mark, signing our name on this Unesco banner.

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We ventured out on the snowy wonderland and my nephew had so much fun wading on snow

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We also went out to the Sphinx observatory to experience being up and outside the glacier surroundings.  Be aware though that the high altitude could pose breathing difficulties.

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And before saying goodbye to Jungfrau, we paid homage to the man responsible for making it easy for ordinary people (like us) to climb up to this place even without knowledge of mountain climbing…Monsieur Adolf Guyer-Seller.  He initiated the building of the Jungfrau Railway in 1893.

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One last photo op before boarding the train back to Wengen

Next:  Day 5 – Zermatt and the Matterhorn

Day 3 – The Golden Pass line: from Lucerne to Interlaken

Previous:  Day 2 – Lovely Lucerne

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From Lucerne, we took the Golden Pass Panoramic train to Interlaken Ost.
There is a “Golden Pass line VIP seats” on offer by the Swiss railway site but I decided to ignore it and just followed the same route via regular train for a fraction of the price and which is covered by our Swiss Pass anyway so we just hopped on.  With the VIP seat, you have to pay extra. I’m glad I made the right decision since the train we took was the same “panoramic” train but on 2nd class which is not really a big deal.  You see exactly the same view.

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This is a map stuck on all the tables on the train showing the mountainous journey from Lucerne to Interlaken.  Travel time is a little over two hours.

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By “panoramic”, you get a commanding view of the exceptionally picturesque scenery consisting of mountains, colourful Swiss chalets ….

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 …. pretty villages with their tall almost needle-thin church towers

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..serene lakeside towns such as Brienz which is a good starting point to explore the Bernese Oberland

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The train turns to cogwheel mode as it slowly climbs up the mountains

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Finally arrived in Interlaken where my guests saw snowcapped mountains for the first time since arriving in Switzerland 3 days ago.

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But the real highlight of our short trip to Interlaken was the paragliding adventure of my 11-year old nephew

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photo courtesy of the Twin Paragliding company

For 160CHF (206USD) and half an hour floating in the air, it’s an experience of a lifetime!

Next:  Day 4 – Wengen and the Jungfrau Glacier

Day 2 – Lovely Lucerne

Previous: Day 1 – Wondering Zurich

Lucerne is only 50 minute train trip from Zurich and is the starting point of our improvised Golden Line – Glacier express route.  And with our Swiss Pass bought from Zurich, it was like Utopia hopping on and off trams, buses and trains without the hassle of  queueing up for tickets.

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Lucerne train station

As soon as our train arrived in the city, we immediately searched for the Tourist Office to ask how we could find our hotel.

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Showing us a tourist map, she patiently explained that it is only a 10-minute walk from the station passing through Lucerne’s most famous landmark – the Chapel Bridge.

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This is my second time to be in Lucerne but the picture-postcard beauty of the place still leaves me completely speechless..

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Almost all buildings in the old town are decorated with frescoes such as this one showing the Last Supper

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Yes, frescoes and paintings everywhere.  Even the Chapel Bridge, Europe’s oldest wooden covered bridge, contains paintings dating back to the 17th century.

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A must-eat when in Switzerland is their chocolates.  They are simply divine!  It must be the high quality of the milk that their cows produce,  the highest quality of grass that the cattle eat and the purest Swiss air that they take in. 

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The annual music Blue Balls festival was ongoing and various bands were scattered in tuck away places such as this one in the Kurplatz open air pavilion by the lake.

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This is a pastry shop specializing, obviously, in croissants.

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I’ve been eating croissants in France but the Swiss version is shaped more concave. 

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Lucerne is an elegant and wealthy city.  I came to that impression after seeing these gilted iron signs.

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..and hair salons using convertibles as their company cars

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It’s also a very catholic city.  During the Reformation, Lucerne was the only major Swiss city that remained Catholic.

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It’s also a very disciplined city.  Even without cars coming, you have to wait for the green light before crossing…

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The 17th century Jesuit Church with its onion-topped twin towers is the symbol of the catholic church’s struggle against Protestanism

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Combined ferry-cable car-cogwheel train ride can take you up to the Rigi, Pilatus and Stanserhorn mountains for some sightseeing above the clouds

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Our hotel in historic Burgerstrasse standing next to an old timber-framed building

Next:  Day 3 – The Golden Pass Line:  From Lucerne to Interlaken

Day 1 – Wandering in Zurich

 European Tour 2011

I’m in Switzerland this moment playing tourist guide to my sister and her family.  At last, the European itinerary I have been working for the last few weeks is finally being put into use.  From Paris, I flew to Basel and took a one-hour train to Zurich where I joined them.  They came from Dubai and we are really looking forward to this four-country European tour which is to start in Switzerland.

Day One – Zurich

It has been voted several times as the best place to live in the planet.  It is the financial capital of Switzerland and also the wealthiest city in Europe.  The streets are kept spotlessly clean and the water on the river is crystal clear.  The only foreign objects that we saw floating are the feathers of the swans that inhabit the river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Alps mountains in the background, the monumental Munster Bridge (1836), the Limmat river and the beautiful old buildings make Zurich an outstanding picture-postcard beauty.  The slender, green spire on the right is a famous landmark and it comprises the Church of Fraumunster (Minster of our Lady).  Not to be missed is the stained-glass windows created by March Chagall when he was 80 years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trams from every direction come every few minutes.  It is the best way to do additional sightseeing.

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Never have I seen a jewelry shop display using ice sheets as props!

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When dining out, you will find that a bottle of mineral water is as expensive as a bottle of Swiss beer so you have the choice of taking an empty bottle and re-filing it at every sight of a water fountain.  There are lots to be found in busy street corners.

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The streets and outskirts of Zurich is always busy with roadworks.  No wonder every infrastructure works and all streets are clean as maintenance works is high priority in the city.

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Taken from our moving tram.  The Swiss love statues.

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Switzerland is the land of culinary schools.  These are culinary arts students taking a break.

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You don’t get bored riding in Zurich trams.  They provide reading materials placed in glass boxes like this one.  They are also hung neatly by the windows.  I wish they also come in English version.

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They also use computer screens to indicate the tram stops and the time it takes to reach one stop from the other.

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It is only in Switzerland that I see bakeries displaying 3D image of their bread as form of visual announcement, I suppose, to those who cannot read.

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He looks 14 but is already directing traffic going to and from the  Zurich Zoo.  Like in France, young students are put on on-the-job training in the summer.

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The Swiss are fitness-freaks.

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The University of Zurich Zentrum ranks among the top universities in the world and No. 7 in Engineering, Science and Technology.  Albert Einstein is its most famous alumnus.

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The Zurich train station (1847)  is the largest railway station in Switzerland, serving up to 2,900 trains daily.

Next:   Day 2 – Lovely Lucerne