Switzerland 5-6

Day Trip? Let’s Make it a Three Day Trip! – Lausanne
Map Link

Moriken/Baden ** Appenzell/Bern ** Lausanne/Zermatt ** Lugano/Luzern ** Zurich/Lenzburg

Our intentions were to simply take the train towards Geneva and see what we could before returning back to Suzanne’s for the night. Our first stop was a train change in Aarau, which was the only and longest wait we had for the next train: almost an hour. We decided to use this time to walk around this small, older town and check out what it had to offer. The most unique thing about this town was the many barracks located near the center of town, used to house military personnel. Up until now I hadn’t seen any sort of military presence, although the barracks here didn’t really count for much in the grand scheme of things.

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Compact machinery in the train station

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Blue machine lifts and moves red glass holder

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Town of Aarau

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Aarau city gate

We made it back to the train for the next leg of our trip: Neuchatel. This was supposedly quite the place to be and to be seen in 18th century Europe, and the ornate building facades along the waterfront confirm it. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t know the exact location of the old town and missed it by a few blocks while walking down to the lake’s edge. But in this instance we got a good look at what the non-touristy areas look like and I have to say that they look a lot more interesting than most US towns. I also noticed a steady increase in graffiti the further south we went, and it was a shame to see buildings hundreds of years old with inane scribbling across the lower portions. The sun played hide-n-seek with us all day, with a bit more sunshine the further south we traveled.

With the next train coming soon, we walked back up the hill from the lake, grabbing some fresh bread and snacks from a local corner shop for later. We had made it our plan to check the schedule for the next convenient train – depending on how long we intend to visit the current stop – so that when we returned to the station we were assured of a short wait. There’s nothing worse than hurrying from sightseeing only to arrive at the station and miss the train by a couple of minutes.

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Vineyards on the way south to Neuchatel

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A rare mural among much graffiti

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Dan and I discover a lakeside attraction

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Soon the kids come and show us how its done

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The little boy chasing a duck

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Facades in Neuchatel

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Hotel near the edge of the old city

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Graffiti was much more common the further south we went

The land was opening up as we followed along Lac de Neuchatel. More and more vineyards were stretching away from the tracks and the architecture changed slightly – a little less embellished and a little more modern looking. Soon enough we were in the station of Lausanne. We’d been told that most people take a tram of sorts up to the top of the town and then walk back down. Not us; we immediately set off, climbing up the hills and stairs that make up this city on the lake. I partook at one of the numerous public fountains that are found all over the country. I wish that this was a more common phenomenon in the US. Finding a public source of water is often a hassle and I hate the idea of buying plastic bottles over and over. I was happy enough to have my Nalgene bottle to fill up in every town we visited. The water was always fresh and cold and I loved guessing at the history behind the fountains.

Switzerland has three distinct regions and four national languages. German (or, more precisely, “Swiss German”) is spoken in the north, French is spoken in the southwest and Italian is spoken in the south. The fourth language, Rumantsch is spoken by only 1% of the population and that’s generally a narrow band between Italy and Austria. With this in mind, it felt very like I was in another country entirely while visiting non-northern Switzerland regions. It also meant that my limited German (different enough from Swiss German to cause me problems) was of no use in these other areas. Fortunately, English is a common-enough language and there was always someone to help out. And as a complete safety net, Claudine knows both Swiss German and French, so we were rarely without communication abilities.

Lausanne, like most towns we’ve visited, is built on a hill. This hill was bigger than the others and it took some time to get towards the top. By the time we got up to a nice spot for viewing the rest of the town, the clouds had moved in, obscuring any view of the Alps on the other side of Lake Geneva. This was a slight disappointment, as I had heard great things about this area and I was looking forward to seeing them for myself. But on a closer level, the town itself has some great little alleyways and architecture to look at. We made sure to get off the beaten path, taking obscure twists and turns that were unlikely to be seen by most of the tourists that travel through.

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The city of Lausanne

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Enjoying one of the public fountains

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Streets of Lausanne

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The old and the new, working together

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View of Lausanne

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Exploring the back alleys, too

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A first for me!

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Another old church. This one looked well- worn on the outside

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But still beautiful inside

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So much work and detail!

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This was a fairly steep and narrow street – I love the perspective

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Dan and I at Geneva Lake

The afternoon was passing by and it was time to think of going back to Lenzburg. A discussion came about, as the plan was to spend Tuesday and Wednesday “on the road”, making a two-day trip to the Italian portion, as well as the Zermatt area. It seemed a shame to go all the way back north just to turn around in the morning and come back down this way. So despite being completely unprepared for more than a day trip, we decided to be adventurous and not go to back to Suzanne’s that night. It was decided that we’d pick up toothbrushes and other “essentials” and just wing it for the night. Excellent thinking on our part, and now we had more time to spend in the French area of Switzerland.

Now that we’d made our plan of attack, it was time to return to the station. After walking up to the top of the city and then back down, past the train station and all the way down to the lake front, it was time for a break. We hung out at the waterfront before deciding that we’d had enough of the hills and it was time to use our Swiss Pass for other forms of transportation, like a bus.

Once again, the signage was easy to follow and we found a bus that was routed somewhat near the rail station. We had to backtrack a bit, but it was downhill at least. The next train east would take us to Visp, a tiny little town at the base of the rail line that led to the Matterhorn. This would ideal for our plans, as the weather pattern was for a bright and sunny morning, with clouds moving in throughout the afternoon and then usually a light rain in the evening. By taking the train to Visp, we would be in prime location to reach Zermatt during the sunny morning.

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Chillon Castle

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Lake Geneva

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East of Lausanne

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East of Lausanne

It was early evening when we reached Visp. We got an amazing deal on rooms (it pays to travel in the off-season) and then went out and bought our toiletries for the night. Dinner was in a quiet, very out of the way place tucked back along one of the tiny streets of the old town. Visp was a small place to begin with, and the distinct inner core of original buildings was somewhat tastefully surrounded by bigger and new buildings. I wasn’t offended by the addition of new stuff; if anything; I thought that the residents did a great job in integrating the two areas. If I had money to invest, it would be in a place in Visp. Absolutely beautiful!

Sure enough, the rains moved in as we finished up dinner and we got wet while walking back to our hotel. No worries – the shower water was hot and the beds were comfortable. We got ready to head out early the next morning on the train to Zermatt.

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The town of Visp

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Downtown Visp – small and modern

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Simple rooms

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The view from our room

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Musical instrument maker

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An original slate roof

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Looking south towards Zermatt

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Walking through old Visp

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Modern house in Visp

Spontaneous Road Trip – Zermatt
Map Link

Moriken ** Baden ** Appenzell ** Bern ** Lausanne ** Zermatt ** Lugano ** Luzern ** Zurich ** Lenzburg

The train showed up on time (no great surprise here) and we were soon chugging our way up, climbing up to the town of Zermatt. The valley varied from tight, narrow canyons to wider areas where houses and outbuildings scattered across rich green fields. At one point the train made a low “clunking” noise, which I found out later was the train hooking up to a center cog system to help it climb the steeper elevation gains (and offer resistance on the way down). It was early and it was hard not to close my eyes, but every second held something new to look at: men and a backhoe clearing the river from a landslide, wood piles stacked up to roof lines, rare all-stone buildings, rough slate roofs. And no matter which side of the train I sat on, there was always something interesting passing by the window.

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View from the train shortly after leaving Visp

The track fo
nullllows a very narrow canyon

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More views along the way

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Zermatt!

And then we reached Zermatt. A more quaint and interesting town I could not have asked for. There were very few buildings that didn’t look as though they had been there since the birth of the village itself. Everything was meticulously maintained and silent electric taxis and trucks glided up and down the narrow streets. Zermatt is a tourist town now – well-known for its skiing in the winter and mountain climbing in the summer. Only electric vehicles are allowed to ply its streets and that really helps to maintain the illusion that you’re no longer in the 21st century. New houses reach further up the hillsides, subtle in their new construction and an older, large hotel dominated the downtown. Construction workers were cutting and laying new paving stones in front of the church, continuing a centuries-old tradition, although I think the power saw was a much-appreciated addition.

Now that we’re in Zermatt, what do we do? We could see the snow-capped mountains that ring the town and knew that we wanted to get up there. We found the cable car building and bought our passes to get to the highest cable car stop that wasn’t clouded over. There was no sense in going all the way up if there was nothing to see.

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Cutting and laying new paving stones

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Houses in Zermatt

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Clever fountain

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Vispa River

The ride up was smooth and quick. With maybe half a dozen people in the car itself, there was plenty of room to move around. One fellow had his skis with him and was ready for a fast ride down the mountain. The views were stellar from the cable car. We could see clearly all four sides, with the valley trailing behind us and the Matterhorn playing peek-a-boo in the clouds ahead of us. I took many pictures, all the time decrying the scratched glass and the water droplets interfering with my “perfect photos”. Half way up we changed cars, as there are three cars necessary to get to the very top. We were only going to take the first two today.

When we got to our final cable car station we walked through an empty lodge, well under mid-season construction and out the door into a bitter cold. The snow was being slung about by a strong wind and clouds came and went with each puff. There weren’t many people around: a couple of snowshoers, half a dozen skiers and some construction guys working behind the scenes. The sky was a brilliant blue above us, the snow crystal white and the village of Zermatt a dark patch deep in the valley below us. The snow line was almost perfect straight as it rimmed the mountains that surround Zermatt on three sides. It was exquisite.

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Taking the cable car up

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Heading for the mountains

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Nice weather for a hike

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A car like ours

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I’m waving – can you see me?

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Photo taken by a nice Japanese tourist

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Reaching the top – for us

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View from Trockener Steg – second to last stop available

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Skiers and snowshoers

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An empty, mid-season lodge

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Discussing how cold it is

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Clouds obscure the Matterhorn

After realizing that nothing was open at the lodge, and therefore nothing more was to be accomplished by standing around in the cold, we took the next cable car back down to the next station and then got off. We would hike down to Zermatt, an estimated two hour hike.

It was an easy hike. We started by walking along a winding paved road that meandered its way through some houses and restaurants and horned sheep. It was going nowhere near Zermatt, but that was fine; it was a beautiful day for a walk and we had no other plans. The buildings were soon left behind and the pavement narrowed and wound its way through some trees, hugging the side of a slope that dropped away to a river. A large, rather ugly building marked the end of the pavement and the far apex of the trail. The path crossed the river and doubled back on itself, now heading directly towards Zermatt. The path was wide enough for a golf cart-sized vehicle to travel on, and such a vehicle we saw at a tiny, rustic village a little further on. Supplies were being brought to a restaurant located within the village – I could just imagine hot and tired hikers gladly stopping here to rest before resuming their travels. But we weren’t ready to stop – and it didn’t look like they were ready to serve anyone yet. We kept on walking, the path falling away slightly as we dropped elevation through the green meadows. Like at Ebenalp, the cows would soon be brought up from the valleys to graze on the lush grass.

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Working our way back to Zermatt

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Taking the road less traveled

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Memorial along the way

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Approaching a small mountain village

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We’ve left the road behind again

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Setting up for summer visitors

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Old buildings nestle together

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Weathered wood

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Not everything is old school

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Continuing down to Zermatt

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Outbuildings

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Another clever fountain (unfortunately not in operation)

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More outbuildings along the way

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Getting closer to Zermatt

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Carved statues start to line the trail

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Fountain in Zermatt

When we reached Zermatt we found a tiny cafe tucked away above a closed bakery. The food was fantastic and it felt good to relax after our hike. On the way down from the small village we heard a cuckoo bird. It sounded just like the cheap, battery powered cuckoo clocks we saw in the tourist shops. I felt fortunate to have heard on in the wild, but was floored when I saw one land on the trail in front of Dan. While they have a worldwide distribution, it seemed especially thrilling to see one in Switzerland, neighbor of the home of the cuckoo clock.

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Heading back down to Visp

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Close up of the cogs the trains used in steeper sections

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Another view on the way down

Upon reaching Visp again, it was decided to spend the next night in Andermatt, another small town “just down the tracks” and on the way towards Goshenen Pass. We had decided that since we were so far south, and our goal was to travel even further south, we might as well stick with our spontaneous travel plan and spend another night on the road.

I had heard that Andermatt was a quaint little mountain village, home to outdoor enthusiasts from the surrounding mountains, so I was surprised to find it to be a sleepy little town almost devoid of people. Granted, it was late evening on a weekday and in midseason, but the streets were mostly empty and quiet. We stopped at the information booth at the train station and got some suggestions for a room for the night. Good thing, too, as many places were not yet open for the summer season. We did a little price/room comparison and finally settled on the Gasthaus Tell, a cute little place set above a restaurant on the main street. Our rooms used the standard if not odd European key system as well as an old school skeleton key for the outer hall door. I felt like I was visiting the 1700’s.

The town was very small indeed; we were able to walk its length in a casual 15 minutes. We found an open restaurant down the street and had some amazing rosti and an interesting dish called a Flammkuchenkreation. It felt nice to relax in an otherwise empty restaurant and recount our journey thus far as well as plan our strategy for the next day.

After dinner we wandered around the town some more, checking the train schedule for the morning so we knew what time to be there so as to eliminate any waiting around. As we hiked up a hillside to a church full of people the rain started to plink down on us. It was a light drizzle and we kept walking until we reached the open fields at the far end of town, where we turned around to head back to the hotel.
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Bridge under construction

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The town of Andermatt

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Window display in Andermatt

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Main street

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Our room for the night

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Keys to the outer door and our room

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View from our room

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Another rosti!

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Flammkuchen Kreation (sort of like a thin pizza with cream cheese)

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Pan is there to greet me

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Clouds move in as the evening wears on

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Snow removal done for the season

It was still relatively early with nothing in particular to do so we wandered down to the restaurant, a very tiny place with a dessert counter taking up a large portion of the room, and watched the locals. It was just like a scene out of “Friends”, with a large group of people who obviously knew each other crammed around a table, talking loud and constant with many a laugh interspersing the conversation

We noticed a sign on the wall for a large meringue dessert available. We were a little taken aback by the price – it was about $15 francs (close to $15). That much money for a dessert? But then a couple at a table nearby ordered one and we watched its procession to the table. It was HUGE! Probably a foot tall and the base took up the entire width of the dinner plate it was served on. Absolutely amazing. What was even more amazing to me was that the young couple ate it all. We considered getting one for ourselves but decided that it was probably not something we needed.

Next day…

Tell me what you think! I want to know!