26cantons52weeks

#26Cantons52Weeks: Schwyz

View from Sattel-Hochstuckli and the cute cable cars

Destination: Sattel-Hochstuckli

Interesting thing: As well as nicking the name, Switzerland also took its flag from the Schwyz coat of arms. As my mate Mad Dog always says: I like Switzerland; the flag is a big plus.

Special guests: my parents – they’re doing me proud on the cantonal visits – that’s three so far!

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Perhaps the canton with the least vowels in its name: Schwyz! The canton is not to be confused with Schweiz – the German word for Switzerland – although it was one of the founding cantons of the country back in 1291 and is actually where the name comes from. From my quick scan of Wikipedia, it seems like Schwyz was calling the shots for a good long while there and hence the name kinda stuck.

Today we visited Sattel-Hochstuckli which, in keeping with the theme, is the beginning of the Alps. Plus it boasts Switzerland’s first revolving cable car that took us up from Sattel at 800m to Mostelberg at 1,191m in about eight minutes. (There are other revolving cable cars in CH now – I think I’ve been on two others – but this was the first one to be constructed and is a cute little thing).

At the top, there was zero sign of snow or the approaching winter, even though the “summer” season officially ends this Sunday. It’s basically a paradise for hikers and families. We didn’t do much walking – only over the 374-metre long suspension bridge and back – however, we did enjoy the kids’ stuff. My six-year-old loved the alpine toboggan (rodelbahn), downhill tube run and the giant jumping castle. OK, so dad and I also had fun on the rides as well!

Lunch was tasty at the Berggasthaus Mostelberg and then it was back for a few more rides before the drive home. Sattel is about an hour by car from Zurich.

We’ve been having absolutely glorious autumn weather during my parents’ visit and today was no exception. It was sun-drenched and 20 degrees up on the mountain. With the green of the grass and fir trees, the gold and russet of the turning leaves, and the shining silver of the rodelbahn, such a lovely day out. 10 points to Schwyz AND Der Schweiz!

 

Cantons visited / to go so far. 

Aargau

Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Appenzell Innerrhoden

Basel-Landschaft

Basel-Stadt

Bern *

Fribourg

Geneva

Glarus

Graubünden

Jura

Luzern

Neuchâtel

Nidwalden

Obwalden

Schaffhausen

Schwyz

Solothurn

St. Gallen

Thurgau

Ticino

Uri

Valais

Vaud

Zug

Zürich

 

*I haven’t written this up yet!

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#26Cantons52Weeks: Obwalden

Cogwheel railway

Canton: Obwalden

Destination: Mount Pilatus, Goldene Rundfahrt

Interesting thing: Canton Obwalden is the location for the geographical centre of Switzerland. The cogwheel railway up Pilatus is the steepest in the world and dates from 1889!

Special guests: my parents

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Pilatus is the ‘dragon mountain’ and its dragon symbol is rather a triumph of branding, with everything from the boat quay to the bus stop labelled with that same red swirly beast. To my mind, I can kind of see how the spine of the mountain looks a bit like a sleeping dragon and, where Rigi – “the queen of the mountains” is gently sloping and green, Pilatus seems to loom menacing and dark above Lake Lucerne. Except, as we made our way across the waters of the Vierwaldstättersee (as the lake’s called in German), I realised the mountain I’d been identifying as Pilatus actually wasn’t. So much for my theory anyway! Er… the real Pilatus looks like a dragon too, a bit! (Wikipedia tells me the dragon comes from a medieval legend about winged beasts with healing powers living on the mountain.)

Pilatus’ cogwheel railway is really something. It was constructed in 1889 and electrified in the 1930s. From lake level of 464m at Alpnachstad, the railway rises almost vertical in parts up the side of the mountain to just over 2,000 metres. The elevation gain is 1,635m in total and it has an incline of 48% at its steepest (this is the sharpest incline you can have – otherwise I think you’re actually vertical?). It’s steeper than the triangle of a Toblerone. It’s a longish journey too – about half an hour. Which is great if you’re excited about it, maybe not so great if you’re closing your eyes, blocking your ears and holding on for grim death due to a fear of heights, as my sister-in-law was the last time we went (sorry Laura!).

My parents are thankfully not much affected by vertigo and we had a lovely, clear early-autumn day for our ascent. So nice, in fact, that we even ate our lunch al fresco, with a panoramic view of the mountains from the terrace. Lovely. Afterwards dad and I climbed the “Esel” (donkey) peak to 2,118 metres for a top-of-the-top view. From here we watched a huge cloud roll up one side of the mountain, completely whiting-out the view for about 20 minutes, until it passed. Amazing how fast the weather can change at these altitudes.

To descend, we swooped down in the gondola and cable cars, then caught a bus back to Luzern to complete our “Goldene Rundfahrt” (golden round trip).

Full disclosure: the several peaks of Pilatus are actually on the border between two cantons – Nidwalden and Obwalden. However the cogwheel railway and Pilatus Kulm both fall on the Ob side (and I’ve already written up Nidwalden).

 

Cantons visited / to go so far. 

Aargau

Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Appenzell Innerrhoden

Basel-Landschaft

Basel-Stadt

Bern *

Fribourg

Geneva

Glarus

Graubünden

Jura

Luzern

Neuchâtel

Nidwalden

Obwalden

Schaffhausen

Schwyz

Solothurn

St. Gallen

Thurgau

Ticino

Uri

Valais

Vaud

Zug

Zürich

 

*I haven’t written this up yet!

 

#26Cantons52Weeks: Schaffhausen

 

Canton: Schaffhausen

Destination: Rheinfall

Interesting thing: The Rhine Falls are the largest waterfall in Europe by volume: 487,690 litres per second at the time of writing. It’s the Niagra Falls of Europe!

Special guests: my parents

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I’ve been to the Rheinfall once before, with my in-laws almost exactly two years ago. I had hoped not to double-down on stuff but the year is marching on and there’s still many cantons to visit!

Last time we approached the Rheinfall with a long walk down down the river (nice) past a sewerage works (not so nice). This time we thought we’d go more direct and maybe check out the castle that overlooks the falls – Schloss Laufen.

Unfortunately things were not so simple. We were stymied by the fact there’s too many options for how to get to the Rheinefall! I guess because it’s quite a big, impressive attraction, there’s many ‘entry points’ and viewing stations. So we ended up catching a train to Schaffhausen station, then a bus to Neuhausen am Rheinfall and not bothering with the Schloss… Now that I look at it, the river marks the border between canton Zurich and canton Schaffhausen and the Schloss is on the Zuri side so this works out well for my writing project anyway!

We took a boat tour out to the falls, which I hadn’t done before. There’s various options, we took the shortest/easiest – the Klein Rundfart 15-minute trip – and that was really worthwhile. The flat tourist boats go quite close up to the thousands of cubic tonnes of water crashing and boiling down the falls. It seems thrillingly quite dangerous but probably isn’t. We didn’t opt to climb the rock in the middle of the flow as it seemed rather risky with a 2.5 year old.

Next time I’m gonna nail the transport and hopefully make it to the castle as well but for a first-outing with my slightly jet-lagged parents on this trip, it was a good one.

26Cantons52Weeks: Nidwalden

Canton: Nidwalden

Destination: Stanserhorn (mountain) and its open-air cable car

Interesting thing: The CabriO build cost around CHF30 million, but the idea was so popular the funding rounds were oversubscribed, attracting around CHF7 million alone from local donations.

Special guests: my parents-in-law

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The canton of Nidwalden is located right in the centre of Switzerland. Something I only just realised looking Nidwalden up on Wikipedia for this entry! It seems fitting, then, that our last major outing with the in-laws before they return to Australia was here – in the heart of Switzerland.

Our plan was to ride the open-top, double-decker CabriO cable car from cantonal capital city Stans, up to the peak of the Stanserhorn mountain. It was a good plan and the weather was lovely.

The Stanserhorn CabriO is the first and only cable car of its kind in the world so far. The original 2-stage cable car was struck by lightning in the 1970s, causing much destruction and burning down the hotel at the top. It was replaced at the time but, as 2010 rolled around, they were looking to upgrade and this deluxe, 90% Swiss-made model with its rather impressive USP opened in 2012.

First you have to catch a creaking cogwheel funicular railway up the bottom part of the mountain. This ‘oldtimer’ celebrates its 125th birthday in 2018 and, due to its age is quite tiny – with capacity for only 40 people. Because we’d come on a busy Sunday, this meant a bit of waiting around, which was rather frustrating. They have a slightly odd system of time-slot tickets that didn’t quite work as well as it should, but is necessary given the small size of the cogwheel carriages (the Cabrio has capacity for 30 on top, 60 below). Chatting to the train driver on the way back down, he said they’d experimented with various ticketing methods and this was the one which worked best. My advice would be to pick a less-busy, ie: non-weekend, day if possible to avoid some of the kerfuffle.

However, it’s worth putting up with a bit of potential annoyance, because the view at the top is just superb. You’d think I might be sick of these alpine vistas by now, but each one is different. From the Stanserhorn’s highest peak (1,898 meters above sea level), you could see so many other mountaintops: Titlis, Santis, the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, and a bunch of others besides. Then, if you look down, there’s the stunning Lake Lucerne below, as well as chocolate-box scenes of green fields and wooden farmhouses studded with cows and goats. Just so, so pretty.

A QUESTION FOR READERS: Last time I did the photos through the post, this time I’ve gone back to a slideshow. Which do you prefer? 

 

Cantons visited / to go so far. 

Aargau

Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Appenzell Innerrhoden

Basel-Landschaft

Basel-Stadt

Bern *

Fribourg

Geneva

Glarus

Graubünden

Jura

Luzern

Neuchâtel

Nidwalden

Obwalden

Schaffhausen

Schwyz

Solothurn

St. Gallen

Thurgau

Ticino

Uri

Valais

Vaud

Zug

Zürich

 

*I haven’t written this up yet!

 

#26Cantons52Weeks Solothurn

Canton: Solothurn

Destination: Solothurn (the town)

Interesting thing: Solothurn goes up to 11! The town of Solothurn is centred around this number. There’s eleven fancy fountains, eleven churches and chapels and eleven towers.

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Welcome to sunny Solothurn! The old-town of this canton’s eponymous capital city is “the finest Baroque town in Switzerland” according to the official tourist site www.myswitzerland.com – and I’d be inclined to agree.

We had a delightful afternoon exploring the car-free streets of central Solothurn last week. The old town was constructed from the 16th to 18th centuries and is also known as the Ambassador’s Town because it was home to the French ambassador/s at the time. As such, it’s quite consistent in style, it appears no expense was spared in the building and it’s all very pretty.

We particularly liked the fountains. Not sure we found all eleven of them since we had to do a small detour so small people could visit the playground in the park, but we saw plenty. We stuck our heads inside the beautiful baroque confection of the Jesuit Church, as well as the larger St Urs Cathedral. We climbed the cathedral tower (248 steps!) and ate our lunch (of almost-local Schüblig sausage – tasty!) next to the impressive astronomical clock, which dates back to the 13th century and is one of the oldest structures in the town.

Once again, I’m left wanting more. Next time I’d love to do the magical number 11 tour of Solothurn, maybe visit some of the museums and explore more of the river Aare.

 

By the way, here’s a handy list of cantons visited / to go so far. 

Aargau

Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Appenzell Innerrhoden

Basel-Landschaft

Basel-Stadt

Bern *

Fribourg

Geneva

Glarus

Graubünden

Jura

Luzern

Neuchâtel

Nidwalden

Obwalden

Schaffhausen

Schwyz

Solothurn

St. Gallen

Thurgau

Ticino

Uri

Valais

Vaud

Zug

Zürich

 

*I haven’t written this up yet!

#26Cantons52Weeks Thurgau

Canton: Thurgau

Destination: Kartause Ittingen and the Hüttwilersee

Special guests: Fran & family from Little Zurich Kitchen

Interesting thing: Thurgau is famous for growing lots of apples. At the canton’s annual beauty contest for women, the winner is crowned the Apfelkönigin (apple queen).

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I was so pleased to be invited by my mate Fran from Little Zurich Kitchen to visit Thurgau together on the Auffahrt (Ascension Day) holiday Thursday. We went with both our families, had great weather and a lovely day out.

Thurgau is largely an agricultural canton in the north-east of Switzerland, named for the local Thur River. The capital is Frauenfeld, where Fran grew up, so it was great to have a local guide to some of this canton’s hidden gems. As well as telling me about the Apfelkönigin, Fran offered a few more interesting facts about the area – 1. Thurgau is also called ‘Mostindien’ (apple juice India) by [Swiss] outsiders, because it is famous for growing lots of apples, although, she warns: “it’s not a charming name.” We tried some of the local Sussmost (apple juice) and it was delicious!

2. The Zuckerfabrik Frauenfeld is one of two Swiss sugar factories. Fran says that, growing up, she loved the smell when the factory went into production each autumn but most visitors despise it! Read more from Fran about Life in Swiss Sugar Town.

3. Fran says, “the local Thurgau dialect is very high-pitched and most Swiss don’t like the sound of it!” We found the Thurgauers we came across to be quite lovely though 🙂

We started our day at Kartaus Ittingen, which is an old monastery that’s become a hotel / convention centre. Its large grounds and pretty gardens contain a brewery, trout farm, vineyards, dairy, greenhouses with veg, herbs, flowers etc. There’s also a restaurant, a theatre, a museum and art space and you can buy a bunch of local produce from the on-site shop. It’s a popular place for weddings and corporate events and you can stay in the old monk’s houses, which looked very pleasant! They also had a few art installations, including the cool The Loop. We had a wander around the grounds, explored the old labyrinth, then jumped back in the cars to head to the Hüttwilersee for lunch and a swim.

This small lake was idyllic and far less crowded than some of the Zurich area lakes would be on such a day (not that it usually feels that busy anywhere in Switzerland). What a pretty spot! The photos speak for themselves. The kids had a lovely time splashing about near the edge and I swam out to the pontoon and back. The water temp was a very decent 22 and when the sun was out it was definitely swimming weather.

Feels like summer has arrived!

 

Aargau #26CANTONS52WEEKS

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Canton: Aargau

Destination: Ebianum Baggermuseum (museum of diggers), Fisibach

Interesting thing: I found the museum commentary pretty interesting!

 

My 26Cantons52Weeks challenge has been on a bit of a hiatus. April’s poetry month, combined with our London trip and my writing course has not left much spare time. However, I’m back with two more cantons to write up, which will mean I’ve done eight so far (not counting Zurich yet, that’s my ace up the sleeve!) with 18 to go. We’re nearly at midyear but summer is a great time for tourism for non-skiers like myself so I’m still confident I can visit all 26 Swiss cantons in 2017.

So to Fisibach and the Ebianum Baggermuseum (museum of diggers)! It was a rainy Sunday and Himself had to work, so I decided to drive the kids to this hidden gem of a museum (Himself had taken them previously and assured me it was good for a few hours’ entertainment). It was an easy half-hour drive from our place in Zurich with the sat nav. I’m still new enough to driving here that I feel proud of making it to new places on my own in the car!

The museum is basically a huge, airport-hangar/barn of a room which displays the decommissioned digger vehicles, cranes, tractors and bulldozers used by local-family business Eberhard over the years. Eberhard is a construction and civil engineering business, but more about that later. There’s loads of construction vehicles on display, from Eberhard’s first steam-powered tractor to more modern machines. You can also climb on and into a lot of the diggers, which the kids enjoyed. Perhaps the best bit (for us) was at the end, where there’s a large indoor sandpit full of kid-size construction vehicles, as well as about 20 ride-on bobbycars, tractors and balance bikes. The kids played here for about two hours. On a rainy Sunday, I’d say about 90% of the museum visitors were families with 0-7 age boys. I saw a few girls too and I know I would have enjoyed playing here with my brothers as a child.

Your CHF15 entry (free for kids under 7) also gives you an audio tour of the museum, which I requested in English, and was delighted to find the commentary done by members of the Eberhard family (even in the English version!). I’ll outline the story, apologies for any gaps, I had to keep one ear on the kids!

Eberhard was started by two brothers in the 1950s after they got their first big break — winning contracts to help build Zurich’s Kloten Airport in the 1940s. After that they mostly went from strength to strength, winning both Swiss and international building contracts, including a substantial amount of work in the MiddleEast. I loved the mix of personal anecdotes and hard facts in the commentary. The commentators were from the 2nd generation of the Eberhard family, so they really know their stuff. Their grandmother, who had 10 children, was also the bookkeeper for the business (can you imagine?!) so, in typical Swiss fashion, they also had exact figures for things, such as how much they paid for various machines over the years and things like – “when we got back from the Middle East, our local bank informed us we were due to foreclose, luckily we secured a loan for 1 million Swiss francs, so we could continue our business…”

Since I’m learning a bit about memoir writing at the moment, I found these personal details and family history bits of the story really fascinating and nicely done.

There’s also a spacious café are with an OK range of food (picknick is verboten, but we had brought sandwiches so ate them alongside some food we purchased).

A really fun day-trip to Aargau!

#26Cantons52Weeks: St Gallen

Walensee

Canton: St Gallen

Destination: Walensee / Seerenbach waterfalls

Interesting thing: One of Switzerland’s favourite sausages, the Olma Bratwurst, originates in St Gallen. Also called the St Galler Bratwurst or Kalbsbratwurst, this tasty veal sausage was awarded IGP – Protected Geographical Indication – in 2007.

 

St Gallen is one of the bigger cantons, both in terms of population and area size. It’s quite close to Zurich and famous for its incredible medieval monastic library and next-door abbey, which I visited 18 months ago. It also forms part of the eastern border of Switzerland where it hits Lake Constance and is the ‘gateway to the Appenzell Alps‘. So, I was somehow thinking our St Gallen canton visit would be a bit more of an “occasion”. However, Saturday found us with the first real springlike day of the year and we were itching to go somewhere. In our usual Slapdashian fashion, we’d not really planned it, and didn’t want to go too far afield.

I have to give a shout out to two other local bloggers for the inspiration here — I remembered Mom in Zurich’s post about the Walensee and Himself is a big fan of Moms Tots Zurich‘s hiking info (as am I). We’ve driven past the Walensee on numerous occasions and it always looked lovely. So we figured, why not make a specific trip there.

The Walensee on a sunny March day is pretty stunning (more pics below). It’s one of Switzerland’s largest lakes and is mostly surrounded by dramatic cliffs. The bits you drive past are not anywhere you can stop. So we headed to the other side of the lake to Betlis with the idea to visit the Seerenbachfälle — the country’s highest waterfalls, with a drop of over 700 metres (I’m slightly confused as to whether this is for the two sections put together or the long, thin top fall alone but it matters not).

Those who had planned better could park near the ferry stop (the ferry wasn’t running when we went because: winter) and do a ~45 minute hike to the falls. Or, you could take the slightly hairy, one-lane road and then walk for 10 minutes. When I say a single-lane road, I mean it. The road is so narrow, there’s a strict regime for coming and going in 15-minute intervals so there’s only traffic going one way at any time. You are squeezed between the rockface and a sheer cliff down to the water most of the time. Of course, we blithely ignored the sign in German and almost had a head-on collision (at 20km/h) in a narrow tunnel but hey ho! Luckily there was a small verge that Himself managed to reverse into so the three cars going the correct way could pass us (two of which stopped to explain how stupid we had been). Anyway, it gave us an excuse to stretch our legs and take in the lake views.

When we reached the end of the road, however, our timing was perfect. Just the right amount of time for a stroll up to the falls and back before lunch! The Waterfalls were pretty cool – I was impressed by how close you could get. And the day was just magnificent. Green, green grass with its first smattering of spring blossoms, snowcapped mountains, the jade lake, blue skies with barely a cloud. Simply stunning. This is Heidiland (it actually is). And, to stick a bunch of metaphors in the blender, my little girl’s heart was alive with the Sound of Music.

Making our way back, we had a lovely lunch at the Paradiesli Landgastof – a very pretty hotel inside and out that reminded me of a Blue Mountains B&B. The kids also enjoyed looking at the handsome rooster and Llamas in residence. After that, we got back on the road — during the correct timeslot. And made our way home.

A lovely, if slightly last-minutey canton visit/ day out!

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#26Cantons52Weeks Jura

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Canton: Jura

Destination: Porrentruy / Jurassica

Interesting thing: Jura is the most recently created Swiss canton – joining the federation in 1979 – and is where the word Jurassic comes from

 

With its pretty, rolling fields flanked by roundish mountains, Jura has quite a different ‘feel’ to many of the other cantons I’ve been/seen so far in Switzerland. Which is kind of insane, considering it’s such a tiny country, but quite understandable given the fact of: mountains, mountains everywhere. But it was not always so. Back in the Jurassic era, this part of the world was all steamy swamplands, roamed but dinosaurs large and small. The clue is in the name – Jura / Jurassic. So we thought we’d go see some dinos when we visited Jura canton this weekend.

The Jurassic is named after the Jura Mountains within the European Alps, where limestone strata from the period were first identified. By the beginning of the Jurassic, the supercontinent Pangaea had begun rifting into two landmasses, Laurasia to the north and Gondwana to the south. This created more coastlines and shifted the continental climate from dry to humid, and many of the arid deserts of the Triassic were replaced by lush rainforests. On land, the fauna transitioned from the Triassic fauna, dominated by both dinosauromorph and crocodylomorph archosaurs, to one dominated by dinosaurs alone.  Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jurassic

The dinos, and in fact almost any sign of life, proved rather difficult to find though! We’d inadvertently visited during the local holiday period of Semaine Blanche – White Week – and on a Sunday, so there was a total of one boulangerie, one restaurant and a few bars open in the town of Porrentruy (to be fair, not much is open in Switzerland on Sundays as a rule but you do usually get a few more cafes etc.) Anyway, the sun was shining and there wasn’t much “Blanche” (snow) in town so we had a pleasant wander through Porrentruy. And an unexpectedly good lunch at L’Inter. (Hmm, #26Cantons52weeks is fast becoming #26lunches – I need to start #26typesofexercise!)

After our meal, we went to try to find the dinosaur footprints at the Jurassica Diotec. Both the Satnav and Google maps took us to a local tech park area and told us we were in the right place but we circled around a bunch of very closed-up looking buildings and could not see a hint of dinosaurs. There was no signage, nothing.

Luckily, Himself managed to flag down a local who was strolling by the river who told us they were “three buildings across”. We went there and, tucked away in a courtyard behind the engineering school – Success! Pretty awesome. On the way out we saw a tiny sign pointing to where we’d been but without some serious persistence, it would have been missed entirely. There’s heaps more Jurassic Jura to see nearby, including a whole Dinosaur Theme Trail you can hike – once again, we might have to come back for a more extensive visit to this fascinating canton with our little dino-lovers.

Appenzell #26Cantons52Weeks

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Canton: Appenzell Innerrhoden / Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Destination: Hoher Kasten “The Top of Appenzell”

Crazy thing: The canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden was the last jurisdiction in Europe to grant women the vote – in 1991. Yes, that is only 26 years ago. What the… ?

 

We visited the Appenzell yesterday. I say “The Appenzell” because there’s actually two “half-cantons” that make up Appenzellerland in tourist terms – Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden (the split happened back in 1525 due to religion: Catholic / Protestant). Well, I’m going to claim both since we drove through Inner and Ausser before catching a cable car to the “Top of Appenzell”, where we had views over the two half-cantons and beyond — all the way to Germany, Austria, Lichtenstein and France (on a clear day).

We picked a rather windy Sunday for our trip, which meant a slightly hairy gondola ride up to Hoher Kasten for lunch at the revolving restaurant. The cable car had actually been closed due to high winds the previous day so we weren’t even sure if we’d get up there! Luckily it was running and there wasn’t too much rocking and rolling except right at the end as we ascended up the almost sheer rockface to the cable car station.

It was a rather grey winter’s day so we visibility wasn’t the best ever, but we could see all the way to Lake Constance and various other vistas. Added bonus was that, due to the inclement weather, it wasn’t at all crowded and we had a prime window-seat for our meal in the revolving restaurant – which was super-cool (the food wasn’t half bad either).

On the way home we stopped at a farm vending machine for some apfelsaft and raclette cheese. I am fascinated by these things.

Farm vending machine at St Gallenkapel

Farm vending machine at St Gallenkapel

Short entry this time – not much more to say, really!