Update as of May 6
Trip Start Apr 26, 2005
16Trip End Ongoing
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We drove up into the mountains through several small villages while enjoying the clean and green countryside. Once we arrived in Stechelberg we parked the car at the cable car starting point and road two cable cars up to Murren, which is located about halfway up the mountain at 5,381 feet above sea level. We decided to stay here for two nights so we could spend a full day walking around the villages of this side of the mountain and so we could take another cable car (2 cars again) up to the top to the Shorthorn
April 30 - here in Murren we stayed in the Hotel Alpenruh where we have a fantastic view from out little balcony (where I'm sitting with a glass of wine as I write this update) of the 3 famous mountains of this area - the Eiger, the Monch, and the Jugenfrau (the Ogre, the Monk, and the Young Maiden, with the monk protecting the young maiden from the ogre). It's a gloriously blue-sky day and the temperature has been in the low 20s (Celsius) today.
We took those 2 cable cars up to the top of the Schilthorn Mountain this morning and at 9,748 feet we had fantastic views of the mountains all around and even down to Interlaken where we could see the lake. There's still too much snow on the mountain to hike down - they had about 7 meters this winter - so we made it a round trip on the cable car.
Once we got back down to Murren we rode the one-car train to Grutschalp - about a 15-minute ride. From there we made the easy 1 ¼ hour hike back to our hotel for a late lunch of Swiss style macaroni & cheese (a gratin with potatoes & ham). Lunch was on the restaurant's terrace where had that same great view of the mountains and we were entertained by watching two paragliders making their way down from high above the Eiger
Bellies full we decided that a walk downhill was in order so we headed off for Gimmelwald, which is about a 40 minute walk from our hotel. Along the way we had spectacular views of several waterfalls made from the melting snow. As we were walking we heard what sounded like a train going by, but when we look across the valley we saw that it was actually a small rock avalanche. Glad we were on this side of the valley! As we were walking down we also saw a small farm that raises Shetland ponies. A couple of little girls who lived there took off on their bikes and we wondered how their little legs were going to get them back up that steep mountain road. Once we got to the bottom we found out that they didn't have to worry about that - they and their bikes were on the cable car riding back up the mountain with us - along with several other people and two dogs.
That about sums up our day on the mountain in Murren and now it's time to sit back, enjoy the rest of that wine in my glass, and watch the sun shine on those mountains
May 1 - and it's time to say goodbye to Murren. On the way out of the valley we stopped to take the tour of Trummelbach Falls. Spectacular!! only begins to describe these 10 waterfalls, which are mainly seen from inside the mountain. We took the funicular up to the end and climbed the steps up to the highest possible point (all still within the mountain cavern) stopping along the way - both up & down - to see the falls. 52,000 gallons of water per second rushing down from the melting glacier. This is a definite must for anyone visiting this part of Switzerland and it certainly is worth the 10 Swiss Francs admission fee.
After leaving the valley we headed for Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn. Since Zermatt is a car free city (just like Murren) we left the car at the parking lot at the Tasch train station and took the 12 minute train ride over to the village of Zermatt, which is situated in the valley at the base of the Matterhorn. We arrived here with no hotel reservation and since it's the low season many of the hotels aren't open. Never fear - a few phone calls from the handy phones by the hotel list board in the train station and we found a room in the Hotel Julen where we had a little bit of view of the Matterhorn from our balcony. We spent a couple of hours walking around the town and up by the gondola where we watched the skiers and snowboarders heading back from their day on the mountain, then enjoyed a drink at a small hotel bar that has great views of the Matterhorn, and finally down through the old village
May 2 - we took the 42 minute train ride up the mountain to the Gornergratt. It's just a bit over 10,000 feet up there and the views of the Matterhorn along the way are superb. Once you're up there, there isn't much to do, except to wander around & admire the views and wait for the next train going down. Of course, if the ski trails are open you can ski back down t Zermatt, but at this time of the year the snow is soft & icy in spots, so the ski runs on that side of the mountain are all closed - only those on the other side are still open. You could also hike back down once the snow melts, but for now the snow is still too deep for that. Once we got back down to Zermatt we hopped back on the train for Tasch to pick up the car & head up & over the Alps on our way to Italy.
After that beautiful drive over the Alps, and a brief stop at the Italian border to get our passports stamped (where I wasn't allowed to take a photo of the police station - don't know why) we arrived in Baveno, Italy, a small town that sits on the shores of Lake Maggiore
May 3 - after having our breakfast outside in the hotel's garden, while enjoying the view of the lake and the cool morning air, we took the boat over to Isola Bella and had a tour of the castle, which was built starting in the mid-1500s. We even saw the room where Napoleon slept (yes, there really is such a place) and the room where Mussolini attended a last-attempt meeting for avoiding WWII. Guess that meeting didn't go so well since the war started soon after. The grotto rooms were amazing with thousands upon thousands of little stones covering the floor, the walls, and even the ceilings.
From Baveno we headed for Venice (Venezia) and 400 kilometers later (at about 140 kilometers per hour) we arrived in Venice where we rode the vaporetto (water taxi) to St. Angelo station. Sabrina, from Venice Views, our landlord for the next 5 nights met us at the water-taxi station and walked us to the apartment. We have rented a one-bedroom apartment in Venice and over the next few days we'll wander about and see how many times we can get lost as we explore this magnificent city. We found a nice little restaurant (Rosa Rossa) near out apartment for tonight's dinner where we managed to polish off a whole bottle of good Pinot Grigio - despite our good intentions to bring half of it back to the apartment. And so, life in Venice begins...
May 4 - hmm, they didn't tell us about the construction next door when we reserved this apartment. Those guys start pretty early with their saws & hammers - around 08:30, but guess that means they'll finish early too (they do). We've figured out how to operate the washing machine and the clothesline that is just outside the window (we're on the 3rd floor), and the blue sky - bright sun - day is drying that laundry pretty quickly. I managed to make my way over the canal & through one of the campos (a field, to the ancient Venetians which are all named after a different saint and generally located by a church), this morning to find the fruit shop and the bakery that Sabrina told us about to buy our breakfast. Back "home" again we've figured out how to use the espresso pot (not a "maker" - a real pot for the stove) and made our first cups of coffee. Not too bad. Now it's time to head off & begin our explorations of this city of canals.
We wandered out and about for several hours and after one day we've gotten pretty familiar with our own little neighborhood here where we are just next to Campo Saint Stefano and a stone throw away from the huge Piazza St. Marco where the Palazzo (Palace) Ducale is also located. Wandering over one of the canals we were treated to a gondola going by with what must be one of the few remaining gondola singers in Venice and he had a great voice as he sang Santa Lucia with his music resonating off the walls of the buildings lining the canal. We saw a billboard for a concert at a church and after a quick dinner of pizza and vino rosso (red wine) we enjoyed the concert by a group of 8 playing Vivaldi. It was raining a bit as we left the church (our first wet day), but since we were only about a 5 minute quick-walk to the apartment we weren't too wet - luckily.
May 5 - it's still cloudy, and we needed the umbrella for a few minutes, but today we set off to explore the area on the other side of the Grand Canal. We walked over the Ponte dell' Accademia (Academia Bridge) and began a walking tour I downloaded from an Internet site. Along the way we stopped in a little wine and Italian style "tapas" shop that Ta had located the day before when she was doing a bit of wandering as I checked the Internet email. They serve a great variety of one or two bite-sized tapas and after munching on a few of these, along with a glass of vino, we were off again and wandering the streets along the canals and through the campos. We eventually made our way over to St. Lucia train station where we used the automatic ticket dispenser to pick up our tickets, which I had reserved over the Internet before leaving Japan, for the trip to Milan. That done we headed back over the Ponte (bridge) degli Scalzi to continue our exploring. We found a small printer who prints from the etchings of one of the local artists. I imagine we'll head back there before we leave to buy one of the prints that Ta likes. The owner's daughter, who must be about 10 years old, took a liking to us and gave Ta a self-portrait, which is mainly of her curly hair, as a souvenir. From there we followed the signs for St. Marco (hard to get lost when those signs are around) and stopped along the way to buy some cheese, and some Speck (smoked ham), olives, fresh white asparagus, fruit and bread for tonight's dinner. Sounds like snacking, but makes for a nice dinner. Of course, we still had some great Chianti red that we had purchased the day before from a local wine shop to help the dinner go down.
For our evening entertainment we headed back over the Ponte dell' Accademia to the Scuola Grande Dei Carmini, which is about a 20 minute walk from our apartment, to see Mozart's opera, Cosi Fan Tutte ("All Women Are Like That"). Hard to believe that only 6 actors & actresses can do so much and the orchestra 5 did a fine job with the music. When they are all singing it makes for quite a sound. The Scuola, which is a society, was founded to help the poor and sick of Venice. Their building houses some very nice artwork and we were treated to a tour and explanation of the art before the opera started.
May 6 - the rain is gone and the sky is a perfect blue. Ta is off to explore a bit on her own while I find an Internet spot to check the email. We'll meet up later and start our walking tour of the Castello area, another tour I downloaded from the Internet. More on that tour later.