A VISIT TO CENTRAL SWITZERLAND.....
Trip Start May 13, 2010
25Trip End Jul 05, 2010
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Breakfast was again a rather "colourful" affair, as many of the participants from the medieval fair showed up in their "official" attire. I've been wondering why they're "in costume" even when they're not taking part in the event? After the usual breakfast which included a quick browse of the RS HelpLine on my IPod Touch, I went back to the room to clean up and finish loading my Backpacks.
At about 11:00 I went to the front desk to check out. The owner was there (as usual, he works very hard!) and he processed my bill quickly using a "chip & PIN" credit card terminal. Again, it offered a choice between processing the transaction in Canadian dollars or Swiss Francs (he selected Francs before giving me the terminal)
The walk to the station took me through part of the medieval area (I imagine they'll be de-constructing all that this afternoon), and I got some stares from some of people there, probably due to the size of the Packs I was carrying (I’ll try and post a photo later to provide some idea of the size of my travel kit this time). There wasn’t any problem finding Gleis (Track) 4 at the small Appenzell station. There were a bunch of high school students there, probably on their way back to St. Gallen as most of them boarded the train that was heading in that direction. It was still raining and there was a bit of a cool breeze at the time as well, but I didn’t bother unpacking my jacket as it was only a short wait.
The train for Herisau didn’t arrive until about 8 minutes before departure time. I boarded and found that it wasn’t very crowded at all, which is certainly a different situation than I had expected. Therefore, I kept my Packs with me at the seat rather than leaving the large one in the luggage area
The next train was larger and more elaborate than the Appenzeller Bahn model. Again, it was somewhat lightly loaded (I thought more people would be travelling on a Sunday?), so again I kept my Packs with me at the seat. Two Conductors boarded the train just after me, and one of them “punched” my ticket shortly after the train pulled away from the station. This portion of the trip lasted for about two hours. The weather was still overcast but it was starting to lighten up a bit, with only intermittent periods of rain. The scenery was changing also, with more urban landscapes with small cities and less farm houses. The train arrived in Lucerne a few minutes before 14:30.
The station was a real contrast with the smaller ones I’ve been used to for the last week or so, and it seemed like a smaller version of the Munich Bahnhof. When I walked out the front doors, the lake was clearly visible only a short distance away, and there was about eight Taxi’s waiting. I flagged down the first one, a Mercedes, and the drive to the Hotel only took a few minutes (as it turned out the distance is about 0.5 kM, but that’s a bit farther than I’d want to hike with my Backpacks).
Hotel Goldener Stern is a small family-run property located along a quiet tree lined street in a nice neighborhood
By this time it was about 15:30 and I was starting to get quite hungry since I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. I checked the GPS for the location of the nearest restaurants, and there was a McDonald’s only 0.5 kM from the Hotel
I DON’T feel guilty at all about dining at McDonald’s while travelling in Europe, as I was in the mood for something “familiar” this afternoon so indulged myself with a Big Mac and also a bold Sumatra Coffee at Starbucks! The restaurant had a large flat screen TV showing the World Cup game, and most of the other patrons were watching it intently. The game between Italy and New Zealand was just getting underway, and I recognized the Italian National Anthem as soon as it was played. Everywhere I’ve been in Europe the last few weeks, the people have been so excited about the games that it’s hard not to get caught up in the emotions.
Since arriving here in Lucerne a short time ago, I’ve had the thought several times that it was absolutely the right decision to come here one day early
I took a different route back to the Hotel, one that took me past the Chapel Bridge. It was just as I had seen it on RS TV programs, but there were lots of Swans / Canada Geese swimming near it which I don’t remember seeing before. There were a LOT of other tourists taking pictures all over the place, so I had to wait for an opportunity to get an “unobstructed” shot of the bridge. At one point, one of the other tourists deliberately walked in front of my Camera just as I was preparing to take a photo. He didn’t give any consideration at all, the ignorant boob! I’ve found on most trips that if I wait for others to take photos, the courtesy is usually returned. As I walked further along the river, I noticed a couple of geese that had come up the steps out of the water, and were “bullying” some pigeons and stealing a piece of bread that someone had given them. A lady eventually “divided” the spoils so hopefully all the group got their share.
The Hotel provided a Tourist booklet rather than just a Map, and it was interesting reading
Given the late hour, I decided to have dinner in the restaurant in the Hotel tonight. As it’s Sunday night, it’s quite possible a lot of the local restaurants will close early. Due to the fact that I just arrived a few hours ago, I also don’t have a really good idea which restaurants are within walking distance. Tonight I ordered a Chicken with Noodles and Broccoli (the meal was excellent quality) along with a white Wine.
June 21 - Monday
One thing that I’ve found so far with the Hotels in Switzerland is that the beds are very comfortable! While the mattresses have been “average”, every Hotel I’ve stayed at on this trip has had a nice thick Duvet and a large pillow. Consequently, it took me a while to get moving this morning so I didn’t get down for breakfast until about 08:30. The breakfast selection was somewhat more “Spartan” than previous Hotels
I spoke with a couple of people at breakfast. The first was a person sitting behind me. He and his wife were both Teachers and had been teaching in Abu Dhabi for the last three years. They return to Toronto tomorrow and will be living back in Canada now. While I was chatting with him about life in the middle east, a gentleman from another table came over to join the conversation. He was a recently retired Criminal Investigator for the United States I.R.S.
I went back to the room to get organized, but waited an hour or so before going out as several of my “gadgets” were being charged. When I finally did venture out at about 11:00, I discovered that the walk to the station was actually only about 5-10 minutes (provided one doesn’t get sidetracked and start looking at the sights).
I located the Tourist Information office at the station but there was somewhat of a queue so I went to find a washroom. As I was leaving the tourist office, I discovered a Burger King next to Track 3 (information to file for future reference). The McClean washroom facility was one floor down in the Mall area, and there was a charge of SF$2 to use the facilities. I couldn’t see any other WC’s, so I assume that’s it? It was very “clean” and there was an Attendant present who appeared to service the facilities after every visitor. When I finally got back to the T.I., the queue had vanished so I went to make a few enquiries
I decided to buy a two-day Lucerne Card (SF$27) as I was planning on visiting a number of sights and figured it might ultimately save me some money. After buying the card, I headed for the Swiss Museum of Transportation using the No. 6 Bus (which was covered by the card). At the Museum, admission with the card was half price so I only paid SF$13.50. If I use it a couple of times tomorrow, I’ll probably recover the cost.
I spent most of the day wandering around the various sections of the Transportation Museum. I started in the Rail section, and they had a lot of displays there of both steam and electric trains. I tried one of the rail simulators, driving the Bernina Express (which I had just taken about a week ago) on the first part of the journey out of Tirano. I successfully made it to the destination (it was harder than I imagined, as the controls weren’t very responsive and the speed had to be changed frequently when the train went through towns).
I discovered a few interesting items when perusing the rail displays. First, the Swiss Rail system (and probably others in Europe as well) will be implementing an EasyPass system (using RFID?) in future, which will eliminate paper tickets
The other interesting item is that the European rail systems are implementing a central control system for trains, similar to the air traffic control system. Two-way data links will be provided in the train, and the central control will be able to monitor the speed and other parameters of the trains in “real time”. From what I could determine, this system may also eliminate the current system of railway signals (lights and flags), as cautions or “stop” instructions will be immediately transmitted to the Engineer. The Europeans are certainly way ahead of North America with rail technology!
I then moved to the Car and Truck section, where I watched a demonstration of a robotic parking system. The vehicles sit on “shelves”, and these can be moved down to ground level by a robotic lift mechanism
While I was eating, I noticed a couple of white Setra Buses pull into the interior Courtyard of the Museum (that was the make of Bus used on the Greece tour). They had been parked in a “V” facing each other and I noticed a lot of people in the vicinity, some taking photos. I finished my lunch quickly and hurried out to get a photo. While I was there, I got talking to one of the Drivers and he explained why the Buses were there. They were taking a contingent of media around Switzerland to both demonstrate the Buses and also highlight some of the gorgeous scenery (the travel route was painted on a large map on the side of the Bus). There were media present from all over Europe, including Russia. One of the Photographers also joined the conversation, and he had a few interesting insights into the future of photography. The passengers had been picked up at Zurich Airport that morning, and they’d be stopping one night at a luxury resort up in the Alps that was recently renovated at a cost of SF$18 million. The following day it’s back to the airport in Zurich.
They departed at that point so I moved to the Aviation section
By this time it was almost 17:00 and my final stop was the media section. They had a well equipped control booth for a radio station, with a selection of fairly current music. There was also a “green room” and a TV News desk, where guests could read the news from a Teleprompter (which I couldn’t get to work or I might have tried it). At first I thought the “broadcast” was only limited to the TV monitors in that section, but it appears to be shown in other sections of the Museum as well
I took the Bus back towards the Bahnhof, which took a while as there appeared to be somewhat of a traffic jam. The Buses here are also quite “high tech”. There was a flat screen video monitor mounted in the ceiling just behind the driver. It showed not only about the next five stops, but also how many minutes it would take to reach each one. Shortly before arrival at the stop, an audio announcement was also made. The Bus was an articulated electric model, and at each stop it “kneeled” to allow passengers to disembark easily. I decided to get off on the other side of the river, one stop from the Bahnhof. After a short walk, I found Pickwick’s English Pub which was extremely crowded at that time, both inside and on the sidewalk. The Pub had TV’s set up both inside and outside to broadcast the World Cup game between Switzerland and Spain, and the place was going crazy!
As it was about time for dinner, I ordered a pint of Guinness and Fish & Chips (they even drew a Shamrock on top of the Guinness!). They “drew” the pint properly, which took a few minutes and brought the food a few minutes later. Ordering was the same as in Pubs in England, at the Bar. The Fish & Chips were excellent quality, and they also had Malt Vinegar and Ketchup
After dinner I walked a bit further down that side of the river, and a few doors from the Pub I discovered a Starbuck’s so of course had to stop for a coffee. The person after me in the queue was from Philadelphia and in Lucerne for business. He tried numerous times to pay for his coffee with an American Express card, but the high-tech machine kept rejecting it. He finally switched to a VISA card (probably his personal card rather than a corporate card).
I walked a bit further as I wanted to find the location of the unusual “Needle Dam”, as that’s one of the sights I want to get photos of when the weather improves (I did find it). When I got back to the Hotel I noticed a large sign on the front desk which stated “Hotel Full” in four languages. I’m sure glad I reserved a room as this would have been my original arrival day!
It’s now after 22:00 and I can hear lots of cheering from the streets, so I assume the World Cup game is back on again and likely Switzerland won? I want to get started first thing in the morning, perhaps with the walking tour that departs at 09:45
10 June 22 - Tuesday
Breakfast this morning was much the same as yesterday, except the type of cold meat was different. There were only a few people in the breakfast room and as I was there right at 08:00, I assumed I was one of the first. Breakfast at this Hotel is from 07:00-10:00, which is fairly typical. That proved to be a wrong assumption, as the Waitress mentioned that most of the others had already come and gone (keeping in mind that the Hotel was fully booked yesterday).
There was an Australian family in the corner and I had a short visit with them (the father was a Lawyer). They had been in Switzerland for a week or so and would be driving to Italy today, and then flying home from Rome. We had quite a good chat on a variety of topics, including the different political environment in each of our Commonwealth countries. They described a situation that occurred in Australia in the past, where the Governor General dismissed Parliament. The Government refused to comply and it could have been a “tricky” situation as constitutionally one party controlled the Police and the other controlled the Army
My first activity today was the City Walking tour, which leaves from the T.I. office at the Bahnhof daily at 09:45 during the summer months. As I spent so much time talking at breakfast, I thought I might be late as I didn’t leave the Hotel until about 09:30. My walk from the Hotel to the station was “brisk” and I arrived with about 10 minutes to spare and bought a ticket (the ticket was half price due to the Lucerne Card I had purchased the day before - I think the Card has now paid for itself).
The group was fairly large, 20 or so, with about equal numbers of German and English speakers. The Guide, Hildegard, wasn’t sure that her English was too good but I assured her that her English was fine and certainly better than my German! The tour progressed past the station to the waterfront and the large Concert facility and Gallery. From there it was on to the Chapel Bridge, the Jesuit Church and other points. At one point the group had a look inside the Government building for the Canton, which is constructed somewhat like buildings in Italy
After wandering around for 15-minutes or so looking for the group, I decided to move onto my next project and returned to the Hotel to pick up my Itinerary. I had the details of my rail trip to Colmar written down there and I’ve found in the past that if I show that to the ticket agent, it helps to avoid confusion.
I first stopped for some lunch near the station. While having lunch, I was reflecting on the fact that a LOT of people seem to smoke here, especially teenagers. From what I’ve seen so far, the majority of people seem to smoke. Switzerland appears to have similar smoking laws to B.C., and no smoking is allowed inside restaurants and Bars, however the outside patios resemble a London Fog!
After lunch I went to the SBB office on the lower level of the station to buy my tickets for Colmar. The agent suggested a slightly earlier departure time than what I had listed, as it would not only be quicker (1H:47M vs approximately 2.5 hours with my original plans). The new route also didn’t require a 10-minute walk from the Swiss station to the French station in Basel, something I wasn’t looking forward to with the gear I’m carrying. Instead it will be an easy move off the Swiss train and re-board the TGV for the trip to Colmar (it’s always fun to travel on the TGV at 300 kmH!).
After buying my tickets, I walked to the other side of the river to the five-star Schweizerhof Hotel to take a trip on the “tacky Tourist Train. The cost was SF$12 which included the Earphones. The Tourist Train visited several historic sites around the city during the 40 minute trip, including the famous “Lion of Lucerne” and I’m definitely planning to return there tomorrow for some photos. Narration during the tour was provided via an automated recording in about 12 languages, including Chinese and Hindi. At one point, the train passed by a small Bar near the Casino that was called the “Pickup Bar”, with the words “Music, Drinks, Pleasure” written on one of the windows
By the time the tour was over, it was getting to be late afternoon and I was starting to seriously run out of energy, so returned to the Hotel for a short “siesta”. After having a rest and getting organized, I went for dinner at about 18:30. I checked the Lucerne pages of the Switzerland Guidebook, and decided to try a restaurant called Opus, which I had passed by earlier in the day. It had seemed a bit “upscale” and pricey, but the Guidebook gave it a good rating so I decided to give it a try.
Despite the forecast for improving weather and sunshine, the clouds had returned and it was a bit chilly so I chose to sit inside the restaurant, rather than at the Patio next to the river. I ordered the Pork Steak which was served with Linguini and vegetables, and of course some Wine (a red wine from Sicily tonight). The order took a while to arrive, and they provided a unique Parmesan Cheese Grater that was made with two round blocks of wood with a metal grinding wheel next to one of the blocks. I found that the food was only barely warm when served, certainly not the quality I would have expected from this restaurant given the Guidebook rating
After dinner I explored the area in the part of town where the restaurant was located and got a few pictures. As I arrived at one of the bridges, the sun broke through and illuminated the twin “onion domes” on the Jesuit Church, which was a perfect photo op! I eventually went across the river and into the old part of town and bought a few souvenirs at a shop there. I also got some night photos with lights reflecting off the water on the way back to the Hotel.
Tomorrow will be “photography day”, and I’ll have to use a Tripod for night photos. It’s unfortunate that I’m unable to process RAW files with the Netbook, as I’d be able to provide much better quality images to post on the Blog. I had a look at Paint.Net last night (which I have loaded on the Netbook), and it doesn’t appear to be able to deal with CR2 files (Canon RAW), so I’ll have to wait until I get home.
Tomorrow will also be laundry day! The Hotel provided a small Map that shows the location of a nearby Jet Wash facility (English speaking staff and the wash includes soap)
I returned to the Hotel about 22:00 or so. The outside patio at the Hotel was still open, and it appears that Beer rather than food was the main item on the tables. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be my last day in Lucerne! The time has really passed quickly here, and I’m sorry that I didn’t schedule a longer visit here, as I feel there’s so much more to see and do. I had hoped to take a Cruise on the lake and perhaps a trip up Mount Pilatus, but those will probably have to wait for another trip.
10 June 23 - Wednesday
I slept in a bit this morning and didn’t go for breakfast until about 08:30. Right after breakfast I collected my laundry and walked to the Laundromat suggested by the Hotel. I wasn’t able to follow the Map, so resorted once again to the GPS.
When I arrived at the Laundromat, there was a woman working there and it turned out that this was a “service wash”, where the staff wash, dry and fold the laundry (ironing on request)
I returned to the Hotel and gathered my photo gear as this was going to be the day for pictures. My first stop was going to be lunch, as I was getting hungry by this time. I stopped in one or two restaurants (including a fancy Italian place by the river), and no one seemed to be interested in seating me, so I carried on and eventually found the local Manora Restaurant. The restaurant was on the fifth floor of the department store, and was a bit smaller than other Manora properties. I had a fine hot meal with chicken, rice, broccoli and cauliflower as well as a small glass of wine and coffee.
After lunch I carried on to the Lion of Lucerne monument, again using the GPS. As I was going up a flight of concrete stairs, I met an American couple coming down and we had a short visit
There were quite a few tourists there, and I had to wait for about 15 minutes to get some pictures as the sun kept going behind clouds. Eventually it reappeared and I got the pictures I wanted. At one point, a young man from India asked me to take a photo of him and his girlfriend, with the monument in the background. He seemed to be happy with the result, although I told him I’d take another if he wanted.
When I left the monument, I somehow made a wrong turn and found myself in a neighborhood with apartments and small shops. The GPS seemed to be “locked up” at the time, as the small car symbol wouldn’t change direction as I moved. It started working again in a few minutes, and I found the right direction to walk back to the waterfront area. I got some photos of the boats along the waterfront, and had a coffee and an Apple Strudel at a small shop near the Tour Bus parking area (there were a lot of tour buses coming and going). I noticed some signs in that area announcing some kind of a huge music festival that will be taking place in Lucerne on the weekend. Over 75 bands will be taking part, and it would have been great to be here for that but I didn’t know about it.
I eventually found myself back in the old town, and walked up towards the medieval wall and towers. It was a bit of a climb to get up to the wall, and only part of it has been restored and fitted with a railing. It had a reasonably good view of the town (some obstruction by trees) so I got some good shots. Just as I was about to head down, I got chatting with an English woman and her Swiss husband (from Bern. We talked about the U.K. and a variety of topics (including the increase in the VAT which will be taking place soon) and were were eventually joined by an 85 year old gentleman from the south of England (retired from the Royal Navy in 1947). He had the typical “dry” English sense of humor and it was great to have a visit with all of them.
By this time it was about 16:30 or so and I walked back to the Hotel for a much needed rest. I had a short nap and rested my aching feet until about 18:30 or so. Due to the fact that I had packing to do and this was my last night in town, I decided to eat in the Hotel restaurant again. This time I had the “special” of Chicken Breast stuffed with Tomato Pesto, Lemon Ricotta and Broccoli (along with wine and coffee). While having dinner, I dispensed some advice on the RS HelpLine using my IPod Touch (until the battery started to get low).
As I was finishing dinner I started chatting with the couple seated behind me who were from the U.K. The husband was retired from I.T. and the Wife was a lecturer in Statistics at a University. The wife was hoping to retire soon also. They currently live in the Midlands near Stratford but have a house in the south of France near Langeudoc, and will be living there eventually. We chatted until the Waitress announced that she was closing the restaurant.
It was about 21:00 or so and I went back to the room to collect my Tripod and other gear for night photos. I then headed out to try and find some good photos. My first stop was the pedestrian bridge that overlooks the Chapel Bridge; that seemed like a good place to start. I had just got my Tripod set up when I noticed a young lady resting her Camera on the railing to take a picture. I made a comment about her photographic technique, and we started talking.
It turned out that she’s from Lausanne but is working in Lucerne as a Law Clerk for one of the large Law firms. She’s working towards her law degree, and speaks French, English and of course German. Her accent was beautiful and it was a treat just listening to her talk. It was unlike any French accent I’ve ever heard. We were discussing languages and the difference between Quebec French and Parisian French, when two other girls (who were also taking pictures nearby) heard that and joined our conversation. One of them was a Lawyer from Toronto, who specializes in Worker’s Compensation work. Her friend was a Linguistics Student and could speak English, (Quebec) French, German and “Gascony” (a dialect from the south of France).
We talked for over an hour about a variety of subjects. The two girls from Toronto mentioned that there had been an earthquake in Ontario today. I’ll have to check the Internet back at the Hotel to get the details on that, and perhaps catch up on some B.C. news as well. While we were chatting at the entrance to the bridge, a guy with a Camera hurriedly walked past us and stopped a few feet away to take a photo of the Chapel Bridge - he looked identical to Jude Law! Eventually the girls said they had to go, so I carried on with my photography. I got a few shots of the bridge and other places along the waterfront. I decided not to go up further into the old town, as it was after 23:00 by this time and I had to get packed and organized for my trip in the morning.
During the evening, there were a lot of cars driving around with honking horns. I’m assuming the Swiss Soccer team won again! Earlier in the evening when I had first arrived at the river, there was a huge cheer from the Pickwick English Pub that could be clearly heard across the river. That Pub seems to be one of the most active places in town for soccer fans..
During the day, I was thinking back to my lunch yesterday. I was approached at the table by a young guy with a Petition of some kind. I refused to sign and he moved on. I’m not sure what it was about, as it was written in German. I wasn’t about to list my name and address on a piece of paper in Europe for a cause that I knew nothing about. It seemed like a good possibility for Identity Theft! He appeared to be Eastern European, as did his partner who was also circulating through the restaurant with a Petition.
I’ll have to get up a bit earlier tomorrow, as I’m planning to walk to the rail station with my Packs. The train leaves at 08:54 and I don’t want to be late!