cantons

#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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

Advertisements

#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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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: Fribourg / Freiburg

Fribourg

Canton: Fribourg /Freiburg

Destination: The canton’s capital city, also called Fribourg (Fr) / Freiburg (De)

Interesting thing: The “röstigraben” – the divide between French and German speaking parts of Switzerland – runs right through the city of Fribourg, literally, in the form of the river Saane / Sarine.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Our visit to Fribourg was another slightly last-minute affair. I had actually planned to use my trip to this western Switzerland canton to check out the city of Gruyères, where the cheese is produced and also the location for the goth-horror designer H.R. Giger’s museum and bar (it’s the largest collection of his work, and the bar looks wicked!) But I sort of forgot that and also not sure the kids are quite ready/old enough for the Giger onslaught. Anyway.

One thing I love about Switzerland is pretty much every canton, area and large or noteworthy town has its own tourism website with a wealth of info and suggestions. There’s usually a “family” section too, which is where I found this downloadable map for a Discovery tour of Fribourg for Kids. We were set.

It is about 1.45 drive from Zurich so we arrived just in time for lunch. Another thing I love about Switzerland is, while almost all the shops are closed on Sundays, you get a really nice atmosphere at the restaurants, with groups of friends and families coming together for brunch, lunch and beyond. On this particular Sunday in Fribourg, we hit a restaurant that was catering to a twins convention, so it was twice as nice!

As well as Giger, the canton also hosts a museum for two more famous local sculptors: Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle, which we also forgot to check out (oops!) although I would have liked to. We did see the Tinguely fountain in the Grand-Places park though! Tinguely, who is famous for his kinetic, surrealist sculptures, was born in Fribourg and Saint Phalle (his wife) was French. If you know Zurich, you should be familiar with Saint Phalle’s colourful “Nana” angel sculpture which hangs in the main hall of the Hauptbahnhof. And you may have seen Tinguely’s stuff down the lake and/or in Basel.

Tinguely fountain, Fribourg

Anyway, we had a very pleasant wander around Fribourg following the discovery trail (and won the prize of locally-made chocolate from the tourism office!).

The town is set quite dramatically in a gorge between three rivers and the old bit contains some beautiful medieval buildings and frontages. The stained glass windows in the cathedral were particularly stunning – art deco style, my fave! It’s a university town and it seems the mix of French/German and students adds a real zing of liveliness. I must confess I was sorry not to be able to spend a few hours also checking out the many charming pubs and beer bars we kept passing.

Our final stop on the kids tour was possibly Switzerland’s stinkiest funicular. The Fribourg funicular is powered by wastewater – unique in Europe. Although no doubt it’s a triumph of recycling and sustainability, you could really smell the sewerage: Pooh! Glad the trip was only a few minutes’ long.

stinky funicular

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).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

 

Ticino #26Cantons52Weeks

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Canton: Ticino

Destination: Bellinzona

Special guest: just the family this time

Cool thing: The Gotthard tunnel is currently the longest train tunnel in the world. At the “deepest” point you’re below 2.3km of mountain and temperatures can reach up to 45 degrees C.

 

I’m reaching a point in my life where it’s a tad embarrassing to admit my favourite food is pizza (yes, I’m 25!) but the fact remains. So we figured, in the week of my birthday, why not head to Italian Switzerland for one of the country’s finest oven-baked dough-and-cheese treats? So yesterday we headed south.

It was actually pretty good timing – Zurich, and indeed all the bits of Switzerland we passed through on “our” side of the Alps, were full of squally snowstorms and subzero temperatures, while in sunny Ticinio it was, well, sunny! (full disclosure: there was some snow on the ground and an icy wind, but it was 10 celsius and lovely in the sunshine). We got to travel through the recently opened Gotthard tunnel, which meant our travel time from Zurich HB to Bellinzona was a shade under 2 hours. This was excellent because 2 hours is about as long as Himself and I can manage to entertain two young children on a train journey while maintaining our own sanity (thank goodness we decided not to visit Australia this year!)

Bellinzona is famous for its three castles, which are UNESCO listed. I’m pleased to report we visited all three although, being winter, they weren’t looking too lively – you could walk around the grounds and the ramparts but not go inside (however this also saved us paying any entry fees, ha!). There’s usually the dinky little Artù Castle Train running a few times per day to take you up the very steep hill to Castello Montebello and Castello Sasso Corbaro but this was also on “winterpause”. No matter, we lucked in by getting to the postbus stop at just the right time (buses were only once every 2 hours!) so we caught the bus to the top (Castello Sasso Corbaro), took a look around, then walked down to Montebello, which was the biggest castle with the most to see, as well as a small playground for the kids, and then it was time to catch the postbus back to the station and get the train home.

Did I mention the pizza? In between the Castlegrande and heading up the hill to the other two, we had a nice wander through the town of Bellinzona, checking out the Saturday produce market (we bought some cheese for our newly-acquired raclette grill) then stopped at a local pizzeria for some very tasty birthday lunch.

A brilliant day out in beautiful Bellinzona and that’s Ticino ticked off the list. However, I feel like we may have to revisit this canton before the year is out, as there’s so much to do here – eg: I’m slightly bummed we didn’t go to Swissminatur yet!

Glarus #26Cantons52Weeks

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Canton: Glarus

Destination: Braunwald / Glarnerland

Special guest: Cath

Cool thing: Glarus has one of the funkiest coat of arms of any canton –featuring this cool dude, Saint Fridolin of Säckingen – an Irish missionary who spread the good word (ahem) in the Rhineland during the 6th or 7th century

 

Happy New Year! 

This post kicks off my “26 Cantons in 52 Weeks Challenge” where I’m attempting to visit each canton of Switzerland throughout 2017. I was hoping to go alphabetically or in some sort of logical order (by geographical size, population, altitude or when each canton joined the federation etc) but in none of those lists does Glarus come top. It’s just a nearby canton with a mountain that seemed like a good one to visit right after New Year’s while our friend Cath was in town.

So – Glarus!  Conveniently located a 45 minute drive from where we live in Zurich, the Braunwald in Glarnerland is a pretty mountain area just up from Glarus’ capital city, also called Glarus. The city of Glarus looked very attractive as we drove through it, but sadly we didn’t have time to stop.

The Braunwald was a new mountain for us (hence the appeal). It contained the usual assortment of cable cars, Bergrestaurants and stunning vistas. Unfortunately there was almost no snow! Up until this point, it has been a rather disappointing winter for skiiers and snow bunnies. We saw quite a number of people making the best of it, gritting their teeth and playing games of cards on the terrasses of their chalets while there. We did feel a bit sorry for them – you would have expected guaranteed snow in the first week of January in Switzerland at over 1,000 meters above sea level! I bet they were relieved when it started snowing the next day and there’s been plenty more snowfall pretty much ever since.

Anyway, it was good for us, as we had snow-free roads to get there, non-slippery paths to walk and even some nice green grass. We arrived at Glarus Nord and parked near the station (from here up it’s all car-free) so we caught a cable car up to the Braunwald (1256m above sea level). Then another cable car to Grotzenbüel (1559m) where we ate our lunch. We were kicking ourselves though, because if we’d spotted the path to walk five minutes further along, we could have gone all the way up to Gumen at 1901m! You start to become an altitude snob on these trips.

Anyway, it was lovely. Taking people up mountains is probably one of our favourite things to do with visitors, so I imagine we’ll have a fair few of these sort of trips in the year’s challenge. I also like the idea of having a special guest on some/all occasions! In this case, Cath got a respectable dose of the Swiss alpine experience, we had some lovely sunshine and all got a very decent “mountain high”.

One canton down, 25 to go!

Flat, fat, Christmas and New Year crap

My latest “Roxette” haircut. Maybe another NYR should be find a decent hairdresser!

 

A few short weeks ago I was riding high. I’d had a couple of poems published and a story up in a local newspaper (43 Habits You’ll Pick Up Living in Switzerland). I’d just completed a rough draft of my first novel and poems and even a few short stories were falling out of me all over the shop.

And now… I’m the kid after Christmas. It all just feels a bit jaded and useless. Where’s the confidence-bordering-on-arrogance? The joie de vivre for this writer’s life?

A few things I was looking forward to got derailed. After a few months of little to no drinking, I got a bit festive and the wine intake has crept up again. I kicked Facebook off my phone and I feel better, but it’s created space for loneliness — amazing how social media sort of causes but cures that. Which basically proves it’s yet another addiction. David Foster Wallace (yes, I am that wanker today!) gave what I think is the best description of addiction.  Or, if you prefer, Homer Simpson – “Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

I think I’m tired, it’s been cold and dry and dark but without the joyous surprise of snow. I think a few months of sitting still at my computer tapping out the words finally caught up with me physically and I’m feeling heavy, unfit and yuk. I miss my friends and my family. Even those who are nearby. I think finishing things and achieving things, while wonderful, does result in a bit of comedown afterwards. It can be hard to keep the momentum going, especially at this time of year when things are winding up.

But anyway, it’s inching towards 2017 now and I’m trying to look forward. Play it forward.

Last year’s New Year’s resolution was to make some small, incremental changes that would hopefully make a big difference to my / our lives and I think I’ve achieved that. (Interesting to look back actually – in 2015 it was about surrendering to my fate and a year or so before that it was Don’t Rush In Where Angels Fear To Tread… something I may have to re-examine given my furious forward-pace of work recently. Ha!)

So I think 2017 is going to be all about consolidation and possibly realignment – shaving off the excess to concentrate on the main game. I’ve put in some amazing groundwork in 2016 and I want to build on that. This means not getting distracted by stuff, no matter how important it may seem. And this is going to include saying no to paid work if need be, which is slightly terrifying when I think about my bank balance! Hopefully it’s all to the greater good though and the fact I’ve made this commitment to this Writing for My Life thing will eventually start to pay off, literally.

So I’ve come up with some more ideas – why not. And because this has worked for me in the past, I’m going to make it into a statement of intent. With SMART goals even (yes, I’m that wanker too today)…

In 2017 I would like to

  • have a reasonable first draft of the novel by mid-year to give to early readers to feed back on
  • (self-?) publish my novel by the end of the year. [I’m not sure how realistic this is – may need to be revised, depending on how well point 1 goes!]
  • (self-?) publish a chapbook of poetry and/or publish or contribute to a book of short stories
  • record more poems – let’s say 6. At least one every two months
  • perform some poetry live to an audience at least once (eek!)
  • make a bit of money off my creative writing (ie: non-journalism)
  • get at least five pieces published in places that are not Claire-controlled: journals etc.
  • complete A2.2 German (I admit, this was rather an afterthought!)

PLUS – I’ve also had an idea for this blog that I’d like to reclaim some of the travelogue stuff and so Himself, the kids and I are going to do a 26 Swiss Cantons in 52 Weeks challenge where we’ll visit all 26 cantons of Switzerland throughout 2017. I’ll aim to take at least one photo (if not a whole gallery) of each and do a writeup of something we saw or somewhere we went. We’re planning to go alphabetically but we’ll see how it pans out.

Phew – that should probably be enough for now. I’d better go get some rest before NYE !  Oh, and I’m hoping to do a year-in-review of this blog at some point in the next week or so as well… stay tuned. 🙂