Basel

On Tuesday morning Matt and I said goodbye to Chris In Geneva. The time together passed quickly and suddenly he was flying back to Los Angeles. It was a teary goodbye after three weeks of a lot of fun, with stories to tell and great memories of Switzerland, Italy and France. We’re already talking about where to go on future trips to Europe, or Australia, or …. who knows where. It’ll be awhile before taking another trip but it’s fun to start planning.

From Geneva, Matt and I drove to Basel for a night on our way to Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Germany. Why Basel? It’s a beautiful city that I’d love to spend more time in, but to be honest the hotel was free – Marriott points. Points are covering a few of our nights. A couple of years spent mastering the art of collecting points equals free hotels, a free flight and the Garmin. The hotels don’t meet my usual selection criteria of old, family owned and interesting, but they’re working out fine. And at least one events the criteria. Hotel Eisenhut in Rothenberg ob der Tauber was built in the 1600’s and has been run by the same family for over 200 years, and was originally the private home of a wealthy citizen of Rothenberg. Surprisingly it was on the list of hotels available through Chase points.

We arrived in Basel late in the afternoon on Tuesday and decided to visit Augusta Raurica, an archaeological site and open air museum of a Roman settlement dating back to 15 BC. It’s the site of the oldest known Roman colony on the Rhine. Some of the areas are original remains and some areas are reconstructed. There’s an impressive amphitheater, sections of walls, part of an aqueduct and sewer.

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Driving the Sustenstrasse / Route 11 to Wassen

We flew into Geneva at 7:00 am on June 5 with beautiful views of the alps. The airport is small and easy to navigate – we were through customs, baggage claim, picking up our car and on the road within a couple of hours. Our destination was Wassen, a small village with a population of 400, in the canton of Uri. The village is on the Gotthard Railway, famous for its switchbacks near the village, before it enters the Gotthard  Tunnel.

After driving through Interlaken,we decided to take the Sustenstrasse / Route 11 to Wassen. It’s a two-lane road through the mountains, filled with switchbacks, sheer drop-offs and incredible views. It’s listed as one of the most thrilling drives in the world, and definitely lived up to the description. In addition to the steep grades and switchbacks, there are several tunnels, stone arch bridges, beautiful villages, glaciers, and plenty of pull outs to take a break and take in the views. To add to the excitement there were several motorcycles, Porsches, Audis and BMWs passing on the few straight areas as well as curves. One heart stopping moment I came around a curve to see a motorcycle heading straight at me. Not passing, just taking a wide curve and pulled back in at the last moment. And then there were the bicyclists at the highest pass. Given what it took to get up there, they are in a class by themselves. There were plenty of white knuckle moments, but given the chance, I’d drive it again.

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The drive ended in Wassen, where we stayed at the Hotel Gerig. It was the perfect place to stay after a long day of flying and driving – quiet, simple and with gracious hosts. Their small elegant dining room filled with beautiful paintings and jazz quietly playing in the background was a relaxing place for dinner. Afterward we walked through the village and up to the church. There we found a small cemetery and more beautiful views

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If it’s Monday it must be Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Lichtenstein

Today is Monday and according to our itinerary it must be Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Lichtenstein – and we were in some of these countries more than once. Our final destination was Fussen, Germany. Fussen is located in Bavaria, near the Austrian border, at the end of what is known as the Romantic Road. We decided to stop in here because it’s near Neuschwanstein Castle, one of King Ludwig II’s three castles, which we’ll be visiting tomorrow. In photos the castle looks like something out of a fairy tale.

Since it was going to be a long day, we had decided  our only stop on the way to Fussen would be Vaduz, Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein is a tiny country, between Switzerland and Austria, covering just over 62 square miles, with a population of about 35,000. While it was a bit out of the way, we decided it would be fun to add it to the list of countries we visited. Vaduz is a beautiful pristine, small town. No litter, no graffiti – postcard perfect everywhere. In the center is a pedestrian mall filled with artwork, expensive shops and cafes. The Prince of Lichtenstein’s castle was built in the 12th century and prominently sits  high above the town. The Prince by the way is Prince Hans-Adam II von Lichtenstein – head of the 900 year old family.

Lichtenstein is a wealthy country, with a per capita income of $134,000. The town is filled with BMW’s, Mercedes’, Bentleys, Audis, Porsches and Jauguars, most of which were black. After exploring Vaduz, we stopped at the visitor center to have our passports stamped with Lichtenstein’s seal – and from the line evidently it”s a popular stop for tour buses. Included here are also a few photos of  the sculptures and buildings in Vaduz.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving through the countryside on small roads in Austria and Germany. The rolling hills, villages and farms were beautiful. By the time we stopped for the evening in Fussen, we were ready to cool off and relax – the weather has turned hot. Getting to our hotel was a bit tricky since it is near the center of Fussen in the old town area. After a few wrong turns and some back tracking (the GPS is not a lot of help when streets suddenly turn into pedestrian only – it still wants you to drive down them…) we made it to the Hotel Hirsch. You can’t miss it – it’s big and pink. It fit my criteria for hotels, being old and family run – in the same family for four generations. The staff are wonderful and upgraded us to a larger room in the turret at the front of the hotel. The room is huge with a small balcony. Tonight we are having thunderstorms, with thunder that I haven’t heard since living in the Midwest. But it’s a welcome change and cooling things off a bit. The temperatures have been in the mid to upper 80’s since we arrived in Annecy, France. Even in the mountains in Switzerland the highs were in the 80’s. Rain or no rain, we’re headed out to walk through the old section of Fussen, and then had a late dinner at the hotel restaurant.

 

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These photos are of Fussen and Hotel Hirsch.

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And a parting shot of Switzerland as we left Lauterbrunnen this morning. We didn’t get a chance to spend much time here and have added it to our must return to list. Next time I’d like to visit some of the waterfalls. Staubbach Falls, the one in this photo, is just one of 72 in the Lauterbrunnen Valley and is the first thing you see as you drive into town.

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Tomorrow we’ll be visiting Mad King Ludwig’s castle and then on to Salzburg.

Top of Europe

Today we woke up to clear blue skies – a great day to take the cog railway up to Top of Europe.

Top of Europe is the highest railway station in Europe, located in the Jungfrau Region of Switzerland. The railway was started in 1893 when Adolf Guyer-Zellar decided that there should be a railway station all the way up to the top. The station is built into the rocks in the cradle of the mountains in between Mönch and the Jungfrau in the Bernese Alps. This year is the 100th anniversary of the opening of the railway all of the way to the top.

So what is a cog railway?  It’s a railway with a toothed center track instead of the two parallel tracks. The teeth connect with a cog underneath the the train cars. The cog and track create more traction for the train on steep slopes like mountainsides. While safe they move slowly – which we would soon find out.

After breakfast at our hotel, with cheese, meat, bread, yogurt and lots of toppings (nuts, dried fruit, jam, muesli – very healthy), we headed to the Wengen train station. Before long we were on one of the bright green and yellow cars taking us on the first leg of the trip to Klein Scheidegg. There we changed to the Jungfraubahn train, another cog for the rest of the way to the Top of Europe, located at 11,333 feet (Jungfraujoch Station).

For the best views on the trip up the mountain, arrive early and take a seat on the right side of the train. But don’t be surprised if some passengers think it’s ok to climb, lean and bend over you to get a better view for photos.

The trip from Wengen to Top of Europe takes about an hour and a half with stops at a few other small stations along the way. The scenery is breathtaking and always changing. There are some stretches in tunnels or avalanche sheds, but it makes the trip just that much more interesting to think what a feat it was to have tunneled through the mountain 100 years ago. The rail stays open during winter months providing service to  ski runs located along the route.

Before beginning the trip, first here is a view of the sunrise in Wengen from our balcony at the Hotel Edelweiss. We were on a south facing upper floor.

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The train climbs 6523 feet from Wengen, which is at 4180 feet. The ascent is pretty steep (25%). In fact it’s so steep that seats are angled on the train to prevent rear-facing passengers from sliding off. The trip up the mountain was filled with one amazing view after another with brief stops at stations. The stations were starting points for several hikers.

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The weather at the Top of Europe was crystal clear  and we were able to see Interlaken, Bern and the Black Forest. Days as clear as this are unusual – last week it was overcast and snowing.

If you’re a James Bond fan, and Top of Europe looks familiar, it was featured in the movie Octopussy.

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And here are a few more photos of Wengen.

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Yes We Do Hear Cow Bells…

One of the first things we heard from our room in Wengen, Switzerland  were bells somewhere in the distance. I immediately thought – cow bells. I asked the manager here at the hotel about it, and he said yes, there are several pastures in the area, and farmers use bells to keep track of the cows. When I was growing up in Wisconsin, we used to go to a small Swiss town called New Glarus named after Glarus which is near here, and I remember the cows in the pastures there also wore bells. They were the most beautiful brown Swiss cows that looked like this… 20120617-214625.jpg

We Love Switzerland!

We love Switzerland! The country is beautiful, the people are gracious and friendly, it’s clean and everyone drives fast – but safe. I love driving here, especially in our zippy little Renault. The highways are in excellent condition and efficient.

On the way to Wengen, we visited Gruyere (yes, where the cheese is made), and it has been one of our favorite places so far. It is a beautiful quaint, village with cobblestone streets, and buildings dating back to medieval times. In addition to the village, there is a cheese making institute, and a faint odor of gruyere cheese throughout the village.

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And now that we are in Wengen, how did we get here? Since leaving Portland, we have traveled by plane, Chunnel, TGV, auto, and lastly cog railway – and it has been worth every second, every heavy suitcase and every mile!

Wengen is simply – stunning. We are staying at the Hotel Edelweiss, which is more like a B&B, than hotel. The service is personal and the host makes you feel like you are at home. And dinner, a traditional Swiss meal, was excellent – the best yet. Our room is simple, almost spartan, but the view from it is, well….. You decide.

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This is the cog railway we took to Wengen from the station in Lauterbrunnen.

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