Luzern

#26Cantons52Weeks: Lucerne / Luzern

Canton: Lucerne / Luzern

Destination: Lucerne / Luzern

Special guest: Wendy Noller from Hey Mamalaide!

Interesting thing: Lucerne is Switzerland’s 7th largest city and Lake Lucerne gets the highest number of boat passengers per year (2.46 million) out of all the lakes in the country including Lake Geneva*.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I guess I’ve been to Lucerne about a dozen times already in the past four years. That’s many visits to the brilliant Verkehrshaus Swiss Transport Museum and includes passing through several times this year even (it’s a gateway city to a lot of mountains, eg: Stans in Nidwalden). It’s also where I did a very cool nuclear bunker tour of the Sonnenberg tunnel around this time last year, which I thought I’d written about but looks like not. Damn! That was fascinating, must tell you about it sometime.

Another cool thing about the trip to Lucerne via train is you get the familienwagen (family carriage) – for those who don’t know – it’s a playground on the train. The first time we encountered this we really thought we’d stepped into some alternate-reality amazing-world of family friendly public transport. Nowadays, I’m still impressed, although it was a relief to be travelling sans kinder and avoid the squeals and kiddy-fug that’s the inevitable downside of the familienwagen.

As well as venturing out alone, my Luzern trip was my first nighttime canton visit of the series. Alone! At night! Doesn’t happen very often these days.

I went to hang with friend and fellow blogger Wendy from Hey Mamalaide. Luzern was looking very festive and Christmassy and we had planned to go ice skating… But since we’re both Aussies and therefore not particularly competent at cold-weather sportings (that’s our story anyway!) we decided to stick with what we do best: drinking, eating and a good old chinwag.

Before we met up, I did take a short detour to the Weihnachsthotel to take a look (thanks again Tamara, part-time working hockey mum for the tip!). It was lit up like, well, Christmas, and looking pretty fab on a dark and frosty evening. I may have had a moment’s pang that I didn’t book us a table in the Rigi Hütte fondue restaurant there for dinner. No matter.

Wendy took me to Karel Korner, pretty much the perfect Wednesday night cocktail bar. Then we ate dinner at Jeff’s, which I can confidently say is the best (only) burger I’ve ever eaten in Luzern. (I’ve heard Jeff’s sister, Jill’s also does good burger). Caught the last train home and job done. And that’s my Lucerne post completed without one single mention of Kapellbrücke! Oh.

Four cantons and three weeks to go! : ) I will try to post another poem soon… have been writing but not publishing.

*Source: Swiss tourism in figures 2015

Advertisements

#26Cantons52Weeks: Uri

Rutli Meadow in the snow – it’s the white patch down there. Photo: Iain Scott

Canton: Uri

Destination: Altdorf and Rütli Meadow – ‘the birthplace of Switzerland’

Interesting thing: Uri’s symbol is the bull and apparently the name derives from an old Germanic word for bull, ûr. (That’s way more fun than the other possible explanation that it comes from the Latin ora or uer –  ‘edge of the water’)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The cantons keep surprising me. Uri is another smallish central-Switzerland canton on the shores of Lake Lucern (or the Vierwaldstättersee) like Nidwalden, Obwalden, Schwyz and Luzern itself. I guess I thought it would be a bit same-old, same-old. And yet, Uri felt quite different. Maybe it was due to the snow.

We headed to the canton capital Altdorf – a small town covering roughly 10 square kilometres with a population of about 10,000. Expansion would be tricky because the mountains are literally right behind the town, which gave it a rather dramatic feel. And with the season’s first dusting of snow, and Christmas lights coming on, it looked very pretty.

Uri canton has several claims to fame. First off, Swiss dude of legend and overtures, William Tell, was said to be from Uri and Altdorf is where he shot the arrow through the apple on his son’s head, then killed the baddie, Gessler. There’s a William Tell museum, monument and the Tellskappel (Tell chapel) nearby but the museum is closed for winter. So we made do with having our lunch next to the rather impressive William Tell fountain/monument.

Uri is also where you’ll find the Rütliwiese or Rütli meadow, the ‘birthplace of Switzerland’. This is a flat bit of land by the lakeshore where the founding oath of Switzerland was signed back in 1291 between three cantons – Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (since split into Nidwalden and Obwalden). Every year in midsummer on Switzerland’s national day, 1 August, there are celebrations and fireworks here. It’s also now the beginning of a 35km walking track called the Path of Switzerland, which takes you on a pleasant hike around Lake Uri via representations of the various cantons – and it would be a lovely thing to do on a warm sunny day. Of course, we visited mid-winter with 15-odd centimetres of snow on the ground.

Full disclosure: we did not actually set foot on the meadow itself. You can catch a boat there from Brunnen or Flüelen. But because it’s winter, there’s only two boats per day and we didn’t really fancy being out on the water in the cold! So we drove through a 9km mountain tunnel to Seelisberg and pulled up at a random spot beside the road to see what we could see in the snow.

Even the sign pointing out local attractions was iced over, luckily a passing local informed us we were in fact on “Rütliblick” (Rütli look-out) and indicated the various sights for us – Altdorf across the water, Schwyz down at the end of the lake and, right below us: the snow-covered Rütliwiese. With an hour’s steep walk down to the meadow, we decided we were content just having seen it. A Swiss friend remarked: “You’re the first person I know who’s been at Rütli in winter!”

Uri’s other famous claim is it’s where the Gotthard tunnel begins (or ends). The world’s longest train tunnel opened a year ago and we went through it in January for our Ticino visit.

So that’s a bunch of Swiss history – both ancient and modern – ticked off my list in one small, snow-covered canton!

 

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

#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: 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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!