Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Switzerland - some cities, some lakes and some mountains

At long last, the exchange rate between the Swiss franc and the Australian dollar is almost 1:1 which certainly makes it easier to work out if Switzerland is as expensive as it's said to be.  On the coffee index of 4 SF per cup and the paperback index that ranges from 14 to 18 SF, I'd say no.  Perhaps on the museum index of 15 to 25 SF per visit, I'd have to say yes.  But then again, you get to travel for free on the public transport in Basel and in the other cities I visited, Bern and Luzern, you hardly need public transport at all as they are small enough to walk around easily.  Even intercity train travel didn't strike me as that expensive once you cracked the 'online' booking system (and given that the Swiss rail website is in English, it's not that hard).

My first stop was Basel, a lovely little city right in the top left hand corner and close enough to France that everyone speaks French and close enough to Germany that everyone speaks German as well as their own Basel-German.  And of course, everyone speaks perfect English.

Until I got there, I knew nothing about Basel, not even that it is on the Rhine river

and that the Rhine is still a busy waterway.

The current of the river is so strong that they run a ferry service across it powered entirely by the river flow. This is one of the ferries, small but cheap to run

as it's attached to a wire strung across the river which lets it get dragged across the river just by the current.

The ferry man is only there to say hello, collect your fare (1.20 SF) and pull the boat into the shore.

In the centre of town is possibly the most garishly decorated town hall I've ever seen

and in the square directly in front of it there is a daily produce market

where you can stock up on pretty much anything you could ever wish to eat

and look at

including these wonderful Christmas decorations (that I suppose you hang on your front door, if you have door weighty enough to take such a thing).

Basel has its fair share of old buildings (these were dated 1438)

and narrow windy streets

and possibly more than its fair share of dragon imagery

It also has the largest and dare I say, most ridiculous Swiss army knife imaginable.

But even so, it's a lovely town and I was glad to spend a few days downtime there.

Next I headed to the capital, Bern, an equally quaint and picturesque city built on either side of another fast flowing river.

Bern is particularly renowned for its medieval city centre and arcaded streets

as well as its extremely elaborate clock tower

and clock

which, much like the one in Melbourne Central, mesmerises the tourists every hour.

Bern also has some wonderful forms of public transport such as super long and super shiny trams,

this little wagon that moves people up and down from the river to the city,

and this lift that also moves people up and down from the river to the city.

The alternative route was up the two hundred stairs (kindly counted and chalk marked by someone with plenty of time on their hands).

Most of the time I was in Bern it was quite cold and it took me a while to find out where to hang out and keep warm.  Eventually, I found my way to the Market Hall which turns out not to be a market but rather a whole lot of pretty hip and happening bars and cafes. (It was after lunch time when I got there, hence the lack of hip and happening people.)

The market is of course outside in the cold and pretty as it is, at this time of year you have to be keen to linger there for long.

Same story for the park, very pretty but too cold to linger for long

From Bern, I caught the train down to Interlaken, around the lakes, over the mountains and down to Luzern.  At first the day was clear and I was quite sure I'd see plenty of scenery which, after all, is why I was doing this little trip.

The closer we go to Interlaken, however, the less promising things were looking.  Still plenty of laken but now more clouds than mountains.

It was like this for quite a while so I made the most of what I could see

which was, in any event, exceedingly beautiful.

This, by the way, is a swimming spot as you can see from the pontoon moored off shore.

The train had a rest at a place called Meiringen and then took off up the hill to cross the mountain ranges between there and Luzern. Suddenly the sun came out

and the views opened up.

We had a brief stop at this crazy place where the station doubles as a junk shop

and then wound our way through high mountain valleys and past what looked to be some fairly remote little farms.

Eventually, the train comes through the mountains and you get a view of how high up we are and where we are going.

Then the train starts its descent. While you can't see this in the photo, it felt for all the world like a steep but controlled roller coast ride

 all the way down

to here.

But this is not the end of the descent. The train continues on around a few more bends,


past a few more farms,

across a few more hills,

down past this village,

until it eventually reaches another unbelievably beautiful lake

that we travelled along the edge of for miles

and miles

and all the while I'm singing in my head 'It's all too beautiful la, la, la.'  By complete fluke, after the change of trains in Interlaken, I was in the final section of the final carriage with only one other person who was also taking photos. Best of all the windows weren't sealed shut so I could click away to my heart's content without getting a whole lot of nasty reflections spoiling my pictures. And in case you were wondering, I haven't 'enhanced' the colours in any of the photos.  Switzerland really is that green and that blue and, at times, that grey.

Eventually I arrived in Luzern and found yet another lovely place to stop for a couple of nights.  The city is built around the lake's edge

and on a clear day, you can see the Alps way off in the distance.

Not surprisingly, it wasn't clear for long but if anything, the fog simply gave the place more atmosphere.

There are two wooden footbridges crossing the river

but I thought the river side cafe set up in front of this one looked a bit over optimistic.

Luzern's most famous bit of sculpture is this, the dying lion, which commemorates the massacre of Swiss guards in Paris during the French revolution

but I think I liked this one more.  I'd say she's commemorating the results of eating too much Swiss chocolate.

I also liked this very old (1689), very tiny house

and this huge multi-attic one.  What a pity you can't get inside to have a look.

Luzern is of course all about tourism and it does have some beautifully preserved and ornately decorated buildings in the oldest part of town

but what I liked most about Luzern was its abundance of bird life.  Lots and lots of ducks

and more swans than I've ever seen anywhere before.

Very, very pretty.

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.