Sunday, March 28, 2010

White Christmas: Zurich

The weather turned chilly and damp as we arrived in Zurich. Undeterred, we checked into our hotel and headed out on a walking tour of the city centre. This took us past all of the main sights of the city, including a shop which sold "recycled" items. Leah bought a new handbag made out of a Vietnamese rice bag.


The two main sights of Zurich are its two churches, the Fraumünster and the Grossmünster (which Leah insists on translating as the "Fat Church"). Both churches are quite understated; the Fraumünster contains some nice looking stained glass windows that were installed fairly recently. The Grossmünster has smaller windows with what look like slices of translucent rock (agate). Both churches looked more functional than ornate.

In the afternoon we went up another funicular, the Polybahn. It doesn't go very far -- just up to the University -- so we went up, had a brief look, and then went back down.

Chinese LanternThat night was New Year's Eve. Zurich had a decent night planned for us -- there was a big party down by the waterfront, with lots of stalls of food and some live music. There were people lighting Chinese lanterns, and as the night was dark and fairly still, you could see a long chain of them stretching into the distance up in the sky. We sampled some of the food, including wurst, crepes and waffles.

The main event was the fireworks, which went on for approximately forever. There were so many that eventually the smoke obscured them, and all you could see was coloured smoke every so often as they exploded. Every time we thought we'd seen the finale, another lot would start up. Eventually they finished with a very large bang, and we joined the crowds heading back home on the trams before the night services kicked in.

Late on the first day of the year, we took a bus to another funicular. This one went up Dolder Hill. Once there, we had a walk around the hill, where we discovered an ice skating rink in the middle of nowhere. The views were fairly non-existent, and we managed to find our way to the nearest bus stop (it was at the zoo) and get back home again. We had to have an early night, as unfortunately we had to be up at 4am.

Ice skating

Overall, our Swiss holiday was a lot of fun. We saw mountains and lakes, and went on lots of trains and other varied forms of transport. We tried the cheese and the chocolate, and managed not to freeze to death. Even if we didn't get a White Christmas.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

White Christmas: Lucerne

One of the best parts about Lucerne is getting there from Interlaken. We took a panoramic coach there, which takes about two hours to go through valleys and climb over a mountain to get there. The scenery, while not quite as impressive as our Jungfrau trip, was still very good and provided plenty of photo opportunities along the way.


We hadn't planned much for Lucerne. We'd heard it was quite pretty, and all that we had really decided to do was see the bridge and visit a transportation museum. Lucerne's bridge, the Kapellbrücke, is its most famous landmark. It was originally built in 1333, and lasted some 600 years before somebody's boat caught fire and burnt most of it. Inside, the arches all used to have paintings illustrating its history. With the fire, many of them were destroyed.

Chapel Bridge

After contemplating the advantages of sprinklers, we ambled through the Old Town and decided to go up to walk on the city walls. Unfortunately, as was common with this trip, the walls were closed and we had to comfort ourselves with a walk around them. The walls feature towers, and one of them has a clock. This clock is allowed to chime a full minute before all the other clocks in the town, and is the oldest city clock (ca 1535).

The next day was Transport Museum day. I'm not too sure what I was expecting to find there -- maybe all about the trains they run -- but this museum had absolutely Road signseverything. Trains, planes and automobiles. And for good measure, gondolas, spacecraft and a Planetarium. Yes, we did see the history of the train system, including some massive steam engines, a model of the Jungfrau train that we took a couple of days earlier, and a scary looking engine that they used to get rid of the snow off the tracks (basically: a big fan on the front with cutting blades). We saw an odd looking game where you got to vote for the car you thought was best, which would then be picked up by a forklift and brought down for everyone to inspect. We also rode a tandem bike for the first time.

After a busy day of museuming, it was high time to try some fondue. We had asked at the visitor's centre where the best places for fondue were, and one of the places was the Wilhelm Tell restaurant, a boat on the lake. We tried the Moité-Motié fondue, and it was delicious. After this we waddled back to the hotel and Stuart tried to take some fancy pictures of Leah with traffic in the background (but Leah wasn't very good at keeping still).

Passing the other cable car

Our last day in Lucerne was only a half day, but we still had time to go to Mount Pilatus. This has a cog railway going up to the top, but it only operates in the summer. Instead, we had to take the Gondola up to the last section, where there was an aerial cableway to take us up the last 5 minutes. This was a small cage hanging from a cable one thousand kilometres in the air (says Leah, although it wasn't actually one thousand km). There were some lovely views on the way up, including admiring the pinecones at the top of trees, but when we got to the cableway the clouds obscured lots. The cableway ride was quite fun if you didn't mind it swaying, too.

At the top is a hotel and restaurant, where we spent an extended period of time as the weather closed in and they couldn't send us back down. On the plus side we got free food, but we couldn't go outside. We did manage to get one photo before they closed the doors.

Eventually the weather cleared up and we had a relaxing ride back down (it was better on the way down because the cage was more stable since it was full, and there was an engineer onboard explaining the safety features to a worried looking family). Happily no cables snapped and we got back to the city centre safely, where we caught an efficient train to Zurich.