mountains

#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!

 

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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!

 

A funny thing happened on the way down Bahnhofstrasse…

Ok so it's not Bahnhofstrasse...

Ok so it’s not Bahnhofstrasse…

I’ve lived in Switzerland for 2.5 years now. Things have got easier.

I had this feeling a while ago when I had a random hour or two to spend along Bahnhofstrasse and I ended up chatting to a stylish shop assistant in one of the fancier places for 10 minutes – we had a basic conversation mostly auf Deutsch just about our kids and that my eldest is almost perfect in Schweizerdeutsch and how when she lived in Lausanne for a few years, she wasn’t much good on the French but her kids were experts etc. I didn’t buy anything (it was all Moschino-level stuff, eek) but I left feeling like I’d gained an extra layer of confidence.

Today I overheard a conversation in a hotel where the lady asked for a black tea and the maître d’ said it was available at the breakfast buffet. Small, basic exchanges but I am understanding them.

My own German is still pretty bad – I lack confidence so I say things quietly and tend to mutter, which doesn’t help me OR the person I’m talking to. Then there’s pronunciation problems – I requested Ibuprofen in a pharmacy yesterday, saying it in my Australian way: “Eye-buprofen”. The assistant looked puzzled, until my friend chimed in with “Ih-buprofen” – A-ha! Then telling the same friend (who is Swiss-French) about a feature I’m writing that mentions Crans-Montana there was a moment…. “oh Crhuns-Montana!” (put on your best French). I will amend my pronunciation of this one from now on. Although there’s a certain appeal to Craaaans maaayte!

Anyway, here’s 11 things I am loving about my life in Switzerland right now

  1. More German conversations. Despite the fact I’m still pretty crap at German, more people seem to continue speaking to me in the language now (rather than switching to English), which must mean I’m improving.
  2. I’ve often theorised that the Swiss are the goths of Europe – rebels who like rules, smart, stylish (in their own way), intellectually arrogant, frugal but willing to spend where they see value, difficult and snobby-seeming (which can be basic shyness) but generally worth it when you get to know them. In this respect, I am not intimidated (mostly!) and I kinda “get” Switzerland/the Swiss
  3. My mum and my best friend who visited recently both said as an aside – “You should stay.” Women whose opinions I value.
  4. Wellness – a revelation. I used to think the whole idea was a bit wack but I’m a total convert.Wellness is a big thing - there's even a permanent sign directing you to the wellness hotel district in Baden.
  5. Frühstück / Brunch. They bring coffee then you go help yourself at the buffet. Ticks so many boxes.
  6. Swimming. There’s sooo much swimming here, and there’s water everywhere! Lakes, rivers, fountains. I love it. Although I do miss the ocean…
  7. Mountains. Also a recent conversion. So pretty and picturesque. I still have to pinch myself sometimes. I’m living in a postcard.
    picture-postcard views
  8. Church bells and shopping hours. After you get used to the bells ringing every quarter hour and the shops being shut on Sundays, it’s more a case of why doesn’t this happen everywhere? Shopping as a leisure activity is kind of horrible (although I do enjoy it and miss it). I like the enforced family time of Sundays and the bells… well… you do get used to them and I appreciate quaint old-fashionedy things.
  9. The sky. There’s these beautiful skies in Switzerland… after the grey of London, the skies here are wonderful.
    mountain
  10. We’re mostly happy here – the kids like their school and daycare, Himself is getting into hiking and cycling, the politics are OK (not that we have any influence), the pace of life is less hectic than London or Sydney.
  11. On a similar note, it feels like there’s time to explore some creative pursuits. I really want to see where this poetry thing might lead and I think I have the space to do it here.

 

I really hope we can stay.

Me diving into the Zurichsee. Photo: Katy Albany

Me diving into the Zurichsee. Photo: Katy Albany

More postcard views...

More postcard views…

20160525_155046

… and pretty skies

Mountains: I think I finally get it

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New year ahoy! I approached the start of 2016 full of plans for the new year. I figured now that my baby is nearly a toddler and we’ve been in Switzerland for two years, I could get stuck into a few projects as well as getting out and about a bit more with friends and such. However 2016 has also heralded an unwelcome return of those black and yellow dogs – depression and anxiety. Not quite sure why – something about overhyped expectations maybe? Or the fact I still seem to feel lonely no matter how much socialising I do (OK so it’s not THAT much but still…) But let’s stop right here, that was just a little segue in case you wondered why I’d been quiet of late (oh, you didn’t? Oh… okay…). And I don’t really want to talk about that.  I would prefer to talk about mountains.

I may have mentioned in the past that Switzerland is quite an outdoorsy country that’s full of outdoorsy people and and since I’m not, I do wonder if I’ll ever truly gel with this place. Himself loves The Nature and in the past year has started doing regular mountain hikes, which he finds is an enjoyable “me time” break from the everyday. Oh wait, I had some “me time” right before Christmas, do you know how I spent it? Catching a train for 1 hour to meet another parent to buy 5kg of secondhand Duplo off them. Then I caught a train for an hour back home. I also had Burger King. Wooh. Rock and roll!

But I digress – mountain climbing – as well as getting away from it all, you’re seeing stunning scenery, plus a healthy dose of fresh air and exercise etc, what’s not to like? Well… I’ve recently realised that for me, who spends way too much time alone already due to working from home, or with only young children for company, the ideal “me time” – actually, can we ban this term now – the ultimate Good Time is preferably spent with other adults – it’s just the way I am: an extrovert who needs to bounce off people. I’m OK on my own but my best times are with people I love, and/or who make me laugh and/or who I can have an interesting conversation with and/or who are champion drinkers. A combination of all these is the ultimate, obvs.

Anyway – so we had our niece and nephew staying and we went up this mountain (Mount Titlis) and I was blown away. It was a bit of a faff to get to, involving three trains, a walk and two cable cars but… wow. I think now I see how this can be addictive. It was funny because to get on the cable cars, there’s a bit of a crowd, right? Most people clomping along in their ski boots (to this non-skier, they looked very uncomfortable to walk in, but I guess it’s worth it). Anyway, I felt a bit guilty, as I always do, being in the way of civilians with our giant buggy and travelling up to the ski fields as mere “pedestrians” (as we overheard some guy in the queue grumpily calling us – he was Australian of course!)

But as we crowded onto the second cable car to begin the final descent, everyone’s faces suddenly got happy. We were looking out over this incredible vista of mountain peaks and the sun was shining off the sparkling snow, the sky was blue and everyone was grinning from ear to ear – like we were lovers who shared a secret: How good is this?

We had such a wonderful day up there above 3,000m (or 3 kilometres, as my nephew was tickled to note) where the sun always shines (I guess – it’s above the clouds, right?). I think I finally get why people are so fanatical about mountains. Maybe Himself is onto something. He’s usually right about these things, damn him. So, while I may be dogged by loneliness even when I’m among friends; clawed by anxiety over my “hands-off” 1970s parenting style (it’s all cocktails and swingers’ parties… yeah right) and beset by depression over where the f*ck my life is going, maybe it’s not so bad after all. I’m here, you’re here, there be mountains… Happy New Year.

 

Jucker Farm Photos

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We went to Jucker Farm for brunch last weekend.

About a 20 minute drive from our apartment in Zurich / Oerlikon, this place is somewhat of an institution for family days out. The jury is divided on whether people love or hate Jucker (yes, their logo font makes it look like it’s called Fucker, haw). As far as I can ascertain, the hate is mostly due to parking nightmares – even the Jucker-lovin friends we went with mentioned that in summer the whole nearby town becomes an extended parking lot with long walks up the hill for the unlucky.

But we were there on a snowy Sunday in February and parking was no problem!

Our friends had booked brunch in the Hof Restaurant, which was great. A big, rustic table that would have comfortably sat eight for us four adults, one toddler and two babies. We were right by a large glass door and windows with impressive panoramic views down over snowy fields to the half-frozen Lake Pfäffikon (Pfäffikersee) and the mountains beyond.

Have I talked about Sunday brunch in Zurich before? It’s A Thing here. Perhaps even more so because the shops are closed. Most places seem to do similar brunch arrangements with a fixed-price, all you can eat buffet. Food comprises:

  • hot stuff: bacon and eggs, wurst (sausage), plus Jucker had fried eggs on rösti – which is a traditional Swiss farmer’s breakfast, I’m told.
  • several kinds of bread: proper loaves that you slice yourself including the tasty Zopfli (a buttery braided loaf) and gipfeli (croissants).
  • There’s deli meats and a plate of different cheeses – what European breakfast would be complete without?
  • Then there’s a load of jams – in this case all homemade Jucker farm products.
  • A range of fruit juices. Here, they were Jucker juices too.
  • Cereals including another Swiss specialty, Bircher museli – I’m a convert to this healthy wet dish!
  • There were also tasty cakes, which I was almost too full to eat. Almost. Mmm. (Thankfully, breastfeeding makes you ravenous and you can eat what you like. Not that I usually stint myself anyway!)
  • You order coffees separately but they were included in the price (as many as you want).

It cost chf32 per adult. Our toddler’s meal cost chf2 per year, so chf6 because he’s three. Most places do this kids’-age-price thing and I reckon it’s a nice touch.

So far, we’ve been to a few brunches in Zurich and I look forward to many more. This was the fanciest yet and just lovely. The room was stylish-rustic, lots of wood with delicate touches, vases of branches and classy gauze table runners, tea light candles in glass, vaguely “woodland”-themed decor. And not too crowded. Our friends had warned the staff we’d be arriving with two buggies so they had kindly put us to the far side where both prams could sit easily by the wall and be out of the way. It’s so nice to have room to manoeuvre, rather than extra tables shoved in where they barely fit just to maximise profits. I do love Switzerland for this (the restraint of easy affluence!?)

Afterwards we had a wander round the farm grounds. Himself and P-boy went further afield than S-baby and me. As well as three separate-but-together function rooms making up the restaurant, it’s a proper working farm with fruit orchards, animals, kooky straw statues (!!) and a prime lakeside position close to Zurich. Apparently “they” tried to buy it several years ago for redevelopment but the owners held on and now it’s a popular and profitabile attraction. It was fairly uncrowded when we went but you can see how it would be rammed in spring, summer and autumn when they also have demos and kids’ activities such as showing how cider is made etc.

I’d definitely book brunch again, particularly for a special occasion such as a birthday or with visitors in tow. As stunning as the farm was under a light a blanket of snow, my pals assure me it’s even lovelier in warm weather. And the farm activity days sound fun if you can find a parking spot. Roll on spring!