In our family, major birthday milestones require bucket-list vacations. So to commemorate my 50th birthday, we took a two-week holiday in Europe. I’ve always wanted to travel by train in Europe and Chuck has always wanted to yodel in the Swiss Alps. Oddly, this did not surprise me. Some of you may remember, we ran a 50K for Chuck’s 50th birthday. Just so you know, running a 50K was only slightly harder than lugging my bags on and off trains for two weeks.
Switzerland – Bucket List Vacation
Our bucket-list vacation started in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland region and ended with a whirlwind tour of Lake Como in Northern Italy. Fortunately, our good friends, Jeff and Angie agreed to come along.
My birth story and the destination for our holiday have nothing to do with each other. Since Its hard to work your birth story into regular conversation and this is probably my best and only opportunity to do so, I’m throwing mine out there now.
While I can only guess about the weather, on the July afternoon of my arrival in 1966, I can say with some certainty, every family member capable of lifting 50 pounds had been conscripted to bale hay. And if they were baling hay, it was hot and dry. If you believe family folklore, my father was fetched from the hay barn when the doctor called to say it was time for the arrival of his 6th child. Again, if you believe everything your sister tells you, my brother was beyond annoyed when my father left the barn. Apparently no one had told him his mother was pregnant. It is a mystery how my mother got to the doctor’s office. I can only assume she drove herself because according to my sister you could still see the taillights of my father’s truck when the doctor called a second time to say I’d arrived.
So lets get started! We arrived at the Toronto Airport after a 4-hour car ride and a border crossing in Sarnia, Ontario. It was the first of many customs and security checks and they clicked along without incident for everyone except for Angie. You may want to ask her about that!
For weeks prior to our departure we researched suite cases, money belts, hair dryers, etc and how to make it all fit into a two carry-on suite cases.
I left the house feeling pretty confident I had found the secret to packing light, but it didn’t take long for me to realize I hadn’t. Rick Steves’ voice kept echoing in my head, “no traveler ever said, gee, I wish I’d packed more.” I couldn’t agree more!
No Sleep Permitted
From our doorstep to our base camp in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, it was 32 sleepless hours.
Please purchase the Swiss Pass, if you are traveling by train in Switzerland. (This may be the only useful advise I can give you!) We traveled on Swiss trains, steamers, trams, and busses and usually there wasn’t an additional charge. And it covered admission into the castles and museums. For the trains it didn’t cover like the Bernina Express, it qualified us for a huge discount. Another piece of advice, download the Swiss Train app for your phone. It was critical in determining where we needed to be when!
From our window in Hotel Staubbach we had an excellent view of Switzerland’s highest free-falling waterfall, Staubbach Falls.
Hotel Staubbach’s lift (aka an elevator) was a gift from heaven since our room was on floor three and apparently my suit case now contained a full set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The church bells were a different story. At various times, they would ring for 15 minutes.
It was shocking the first time since the church was only meters away from our bed. By the second night, I couldn’t hear them.
The picnic room was a new concept for us and because I never want to miss a new experience I explored it one morning and used the kettle to make hot water. (I think I used the hot water to make instant coffee; I can’t remember.) I peeked into all the cupboards and drawers. It was well stocked with all the necessary equipment to make a simple meal.
Breakfast was served at 7:30 and it was always delicious and exactly the same: scrambled and hard-boiled eggs, meat, cheese, and muesli. The colored Easter eggs were quite amusing, but we quickly discovered, this was just how they were served.
The Horner Bar
Lucky for us the Horner Bar was conveniently located across the street from our hotel. Rick Steves said it was a great place to enjoy a beer and listen to the base jumper’s stories. He was right. It is also “the best pub in town, because it is the only pub in town!”
One afternoon while we were enjoying a beer, a farmer ran by with his cows. No one even looked his way. I thought it was great as it isn’t every day a few cows run past you. Well, maybe if you live on a farm, but I don’t live on a farm anymore so this was fun to see.
It didn’t take for us long to friend Angie, the bar manager. She came to Lauterbrunnen 30 years ago for a holiday and never left. (She is the beautiful woman on the right! The other beautiful woman is our friend Angie.) Yes, they both like blue and share the same name.
Angie recommended several great places to eat, including the Camping Jungfrau Holiday Park. She said, “Reasonably priced, large portions, and good food.” She was very accurate. Chuck was determined to just “go for it” and even if he wasn’t quite sure what a particular item was on the menu, he was going to be adventurous. This tactic worked well most of the time, except when ordering beer. If you are in Switzerland and you see a beer with the name “panache”, run away. It is draft beer with lemonade. Chuck was definitely not a fan.
The Hotel Oberland
The Hotel Oberland was the other restaurant both she and Rick Steves recommend. The food was very “Swiss.” Chuck ordered fondue. It was a cheese extravaganza.
Jeff ordered “Rostis,” which is a delicious potato dish. I’ve been making this dish for years and I had no idea I was making a breakfast dish commonly eaten by farmers in Switzerland. According to Wikipedia, rostis are predominately eaten in German-speaking regions. Hahah, Chuck will have a field day with that. (I’ve also got 7 or 8 fondue pots. I have no idea why I have so many, but is probably linked to the same reason why I’ve been making rostis for years.).
It was gray and cloudy when we boarded the Lauterbrunnen-Grutschalp-Murren (BLM) cable car for our trip to Schilthorn.
In Grutschalp we took the electric train car to the sleepy town of Murren. (I kept wanting to ask where Heidi lived.) The cableway to Schilthorn is at the far end of town. So we leisurely walked that way. I bet you’ve noticed there are no vehicles. However, the residents do provide little ramps for their cats.
It was cloudy when we arrived at the Schilthorn, a 9,740 ft summit of the Bernese Alps. So we hunkered down in the rotating restaurant, Piz Gloria, to wait for the clouds to clear.
It only took a half a turn for the clouds to part and our 007 Adventure to begin!
The restaurant, Piz Gloria, was built for the 1969 James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” It is the first and only Bond film starring George Lazenby, which is why you don’t recognize him.
The men’s water closet has a sign that suggests you shake not stir and the women’s water closet plays a snazzy tune when you flush the toilet.
Our vacations wouldn’t be complete unless they include a death march of some sort. For this vacation it was the hike back to Lauterbrunnen. It looked so easy and harmless, but we could hardly walk by the time we reached Lauterburnnen. (Maybe we were just woefully out of shape!)
It must be a “Swiss” thing to measure everything in increments of time. How do they know how fast we are walking?
Finally, we got to cross yodeling off Chuck’s bucket list.
Yes, the trail went right through a cow pasture. Each cow was wearing a cow bell and I was told each bell has a different ring so the farmers can identify them in the fog. They do have an appealing wind chime sound.
We have plenty more pictures from our first day in Lauterbrunnen which includes our visit to Murren and Schilthorn. Stop by our gallery if you’d liked to see all of our vacation pictures.
Next on the vacation to do list was a castle and we’d selected the Thun Castle built in the 12th century. It has an excellent historical museum and a restored Knights Hall.
Thun is a lovely town on the Aare River. On the day we explored it there was an open market near the train station.
We took the two-hour ride on the Thunersee Steamer from Thun to Interlaken West. We found a nice area on the top deck and claimed it as our own, but the ticket guy made us do the walk of shame back to the lower deck. Apparently, the upper deck was for the first class ticket holders only. Ah well, you win some and you lose some. The steamer makes a bunch of stops for those who want to hop off and explore one of 11 or 12 villages on the lake. Kind of like one of the hop-on, hop-off tour buses in Boston, but this is way better because they serve adult beverages.
The tour book recommends Schadau Castle but the threatening clouds encouraged us to move on. We snapped a few pictures as the steamer paddled past.
The castle at Oberhofen is another medieval castle we opted to just admire from afar.
Yes, that is a road. Crazy, I tell you, pure crazy.
We have plenty more pictures from our second day in Switzerland and our trip to Thun. Stop by our gallery if you’d liked to see all of our vacation pictures.
On our third day in Switzerland, the rain just wouldn’t stop so we donned our rain gear and headed into the mist. The meadow between Lauterbrunnen to Stechlberg was lovely even in the rain.
It still wasn’t sunny when made our way to the tiny mountain town of Wengen, which overlooks the Lauterbrunnen Valley, but our day was brightened when we found a double IPA from Brooklyn, New York.
We have more pictures from our rainy day in Switzerland and our trip to Wengen. Stop by our gallery if you’d liked to see all of our vacation pictures.
The Eiger’s North Face
The Eiger was very shy on the day we visited. It refused to peek from behind its curtain of clouds.
On our way to Chur, we stopped in Luzern, Switzerland for a quick tour. (It is also spelled Lucerne.)
The iconic Chapel Bridge in Luzern was built in 1333. We traversed it quietly and admired how well it has stood the test of time. We learned afterward it was ravaged by fire in 1993 and rebuilt. (Kind of like plastic surgery, I think…)
After some navigating, we found the “Dying Lion.” Mark Twain said it was “the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world.” Who can follow Mark Twain? Not me, so let’s just go with what he said. The Dying Lion commemorates the fallen Swiss guardsmen who died in 1792 during the French Revolution.
After the Dying Lyon, we walked the Musegg Wall’s ramparts and climbed The Zyt (Time) Tower, which is one the Nine Musegg Towers. Here are a few historical facts for you:
- The rampart walls were built in 1386. (That was a very long time ago!)
- The clock in Zyt Tower was installed in 1535.
- The dial and numbers are so large fisherman on the lake can read the time.
- The Zyt Clock rings out the hour one minute before the clock at city call.
Many of the buildings in Luzern’s old town have colorful stories painted on their facades. You could spend an entire day just looking at the buildings.
First mentioned in 1356, Kornmarkt was the grain market place of the city. Now it is the Town Hall.
I bet you are asking “Why Chur?” It is where we were catching the Bernina Express to Italy. We only explored the restaurant across the street from our hotel. As it turns out, this was Angie’s favorite meal on the entire trip and the only one where the wait staff didn’t speak any English. It was at this restaurant when the credit card machine first refused to work. It couldn’t connect to the internet or something like that. That wasn’t so odd, but when the waiter offered to escort me to the ATM machine down the street I got a little creeped out.
Fun fact, Chur is pronounced like “Coors Beer” but without the “s.”
After I read the following snippet on the internet, I announced that I wanted to ride the Bernina Express: “The Bernina Express must be the most spectacular Alpine crossing. The scenery is cinematically beautiful as the Bernina Express traverses the 65-m-high Landwasser Viaduct, the Rhaetian Railway’s most distinctive landmark. On the epic journey from Chur to Tirano, you’ll head through 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges. The journey will hold you captive with highlights like the Montebello Curve, with its view of the Bernina massif, the Morteratsch Glacier, the trio of lakes Lej Pitschen, Lej Nair und Lago Bianco, Alp Grüm, and the circular viaduct at Brusio. Now you see why the Bernina/Albula line has long been the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Property.”
The die was cast! And we were bound to ride the Bernina Express.
We don’t have a lot pictures from this bucket list experience but we do have a few videos that capture the experience perfectly. Ahem, Chuck’s silent video speaks volumes,
We spent the day in Zurich, Switzerland before our flight home. It was the bookend of our trip.
Zurich is rated #2 for the most expensive places in the world to visit. You need to be cool with that if you are going to visit. Angie’s eye still twitches when you mention the lunch tab in Zurich. We arrived “hangry” so food was a priority.
We found a lovely place in Zurich’s old town to recharge. The lunch tab is gaining infamy in our tales from this trip.
The highlight of our time in Zurich was the beer garten next to the nude bathhouse. The beer garten has a polka band and dancers plus some pretty good beer.
Did you really think I’d show you the naked sun bathers?
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