Archive for the ‘Switzerland’ Category

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“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfilment.” – Hilaire Belloc

On the way to Lucerne we had a quick stop at Brunig Pass that is halfway between Lucerne and Interlaken. We had a group tour photo in the highway and the village of Lungern, Canton of Obwalden is our backdrop. This municipality of Switzerland has the best beautiful scenery of the mountains parted by the emerald green waters of Brunig lake. I could simply be lost for days in this holiday region of Lungern-Schönbüel and won’t feel panic as the beautiful nature will pacify all the bad feeling as this is haven for mountaineers, walkers, water sports enthusiast and winter skiers.

Lightning never strike in the same place twice but I felt nothing can steal my thunder when we reached Lucerne was just here Sept 2011  and I’m feeling more blessed than happy being in this gorgeous town again. There was no major change in this old town it still embodies the picture perfect, storybook idea of a Swiss town. (see: My Stroll in Lucerne, Switzerland)

As part of the tour we walked around the busy streets and headed for the Lion Monument that is dedicated to the 42 members of the Swiss Guard who were assigned to protect Louis the XVI, Maria Antoinette and their family at the Royal Palace during the French Revolution of 1792.

We fed a bevy of swans swimming in the Lucerne lake near the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke) and nearby had a peek of the Restaurant Bodu where I had my mouth watering French cuisine Sunday lunch once.

There was time for snacks and so we just pick this random coffee shop and chat our extra time away while others in our group tour are busy shopping Rolex watches in some prestigious shop recommended by our tour manager where he has connections and can get discounts – Envious!

It was nice to see again this beautiful small city, a car free zone and small enough to be explored by foot.

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“If adventure has a final and all-embracing motive, it is surely this: we go out because it is our nature to go out, to climb mountains, and to paddle rivers, to fly to the planets and plunge into the depths of the oceans… When man ceases to do these things, he is no longer man.”- Wilfrid Noyce

After Bern we head on to Interlaken and arrived late in the afternoon. Interlaken is a town in the Swiss canton of Bern It is one of the best spots in the world for outdoor sports and home for a number of companies that provide the best service in skiing. Interlaken skyline had a view of sporty people skydiving, hang gliding, and paragliding.

As part of this tour we had an all meat buffet and cheese raclette or cheese fondue can’t tell much the difference as both are served in communal dish served in a pot over a small burner accompanied by   red wine. Raclette is Swiss dish based on heating the cheese and scraping (“racler”) off the melted part. The term derives from the French word racler, meaning “to scrape”. Traditionally, it was accompanied by small firm potatoes, mushroom, onions and cubes of meat.

We retired in a village called Grindelwald, I know it sounded like a shire in Lord of the Rings trilogy but the Eiger village of Grindelwald in the Bernese highland is a mountainscape and the largest ski resort in the Jungfrau region. We stayed in Grand Hotel Regina Grindelwald http://www.grandregina.ch/de/winter/ and this is by far the most memorable hotel I have ever led myself into an Old world charm and sophistication, elegance to every small detail was beyond compare. Never mind the outside view of the welcoming and green hollow surrounded by a commanding mountains The beauty of this hotel will survive even without the outside natural beauty. This hotel was unforgettable to me because it made me felt so good about myself knowing I’ll be laying in its awesomeness!

Waking up to a foggy stunning views of the town and the peaks this hotel offered an excellent breakfast buffet and shopping as this majestic structure situated nearby shops. We walked around the vicinity and window shopped across the street until it’s time to head on to top of the Europe Tour http://www.jungfrau.ch/en/quick-navigation/contact/railway-stations/. The journey entails from Interlaken Ost station up to the Jungfraujoch, the highest rail station in Europe. Our tour manager made an extra effort to cover both sides of the mountain going up and coming down and the rail journey was just unforgettable.There was this quote by Rob Parker that resonates in my head as we trudge upward …”In a sense everything that is exists to climb. All evolution is a climbing towards a higher form. Climbing for life as it reaches towards the consciousness, towards the spirit. We have always honored the high places because we sense them to be the homes of gods. In the mountains there is the promise of… something unexplainable. A higher place of awareness, a spirit that soars. So we climb… and in climbing there is more than a metaphor; there is a means of discovery…”

I’m trying to find words to describe the picturesque scenes that witnessed my eyes from this trip but I’m astounded. The landscapes should have shaded a thousand words in my mind but I have none. The view was just simply breathtaking that even when I grasped for air, words just render me speechless…

 

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“Everything is determined…by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust—we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.”—Albert Einstein

Our next destination…Bern baby Bern!

Our first stop was The Bärengraben or Bear Pit. Bear is the official mascot or should I say as to the olden days the ‘coat of arms’ of this Switzerland capital. In 1191, founder and Duke Berchtold V of Zähringen said that the new city would be named after the first animal to be found on a hunting expedition in the woods and it was a bear (Bär in German, plural Bären, or Baeren). The bear pit was a secure iron enclosure in the middle of the park and we did see some bears.

We head to the town centre for a leisure walk and passed by the central bank of Switzerland named The Swiss National Bank (SNB) responsible for Swiss monetary policy and for issuing Swiss franc banknotes. In 1983 the historic old town of Bern became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Bern is ranked among the world’s top ten cities for the best quality of life. Bern is not just all about the money; it is also the home of Toblerone and Ovaltine. A friend back home kept bugging us to buy him a blue tobly and we did find it only in this city. The triangular chocolate was invented by Theodor Tobler in 1908 and every piece is still made in Bern. Ovaltine was created in 1904 by Dr Albert Wander, who mixed malt, egg, milk and cocoa.

Next to see was the Bern’s most recognisable symbol but since we are ahead of schedule as we need to be standing in front of the tower four minutes before the stroke of the hour we made a full stop at a watch shop to drool and to make my TAG puny in the midst of the status symbol luxury watches. Since 1541, watch making has become synonymous with Switzerland (along with neutrality, democracy, chocolate, fondue, skiing, yodelling) so this is the best city to indulge and spoiled your wrist with only the best clock!

We all head to street of Kramgasse you will see the buildings from side to side with Swiss flags and the city’s coat of arms. A fountain in the middle the street was a culture-feeding process. We stood in front of this medieval landmark named Zytglogge tower. Built in the early 13th century this tower has undergone numerous face lifts and internal repairs in its 800 years of existence, four minutes before the stroke of the hour. This astronomical clock beneath the main face shows not only the hour of day, but also the day of the week and of the month. It also shows the zodiac and the phases of the moon as well. Indeed, four minutes before the stroke of the hour sets a delightful puppet show in motion with its chimes you can see the rooster, jester and dancing bears.

From the clock tower further down Kramgasse Street at number 49 was The Einsteinhaus (Einstein House). It’s a museum and a former residence of Albert Einstein (1879-1955) while serving as an employee at the patent office. His living conditions with furniture at that time are shown in the apartment. Einstein’s biography and his life’s work are presented on the third floor and a larger permanent exhibition is located at the Historical Museum of Bern. Albert Einstein, who lived not far from the Zytglogge, allegedly led to his theory of relativity when he looked at the buses coming round the tower and wondered what would happen to them if they moved at the speed of light.

 

Gstaad

Posted: February 7, 2014 in Gstaad, Switzerland
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“I love snow for the same reason I love Christmas: It brings people together while time stands still..”. – Rachel Cohn, Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares

Yodel-eh-hee-hoo! I swear you will yodel the same if you find yourself waking up at the snow-cap mountain view of Switzerland. Today we are scheduled to go to a mountain ski resort and for someone in her entire life that never experience snow, I am sooo freakin out with excitement!!!!

On the way to Glacier 3000 Diablerets (http://www.glacier3000.ch/en/index.cfm) our tour guide was elaborately explaining to us the meaning of the word ‘glacier’. It’s more like he is trying to get the idea into our thick skull not to miss out the detail that glacier is not just snow but made up of fallen snow  over many years and compresses into thickened ice. Each year, new layers of snow bury and compress the previous layers. This compression forces the snow to re-crystallize, causing the snow to slowly compact and increase in density. So thanks to the glacier it’s a ‘year round’ ski destination not just for tourist like me but according to wiki Gstaad is known as a major ski resort and a popular destination amongst the high society and the international jet set. Also, this is the home of the world’s most prestigious and academically intensive boarding schools, such as Institute Le Rosey and Gstaad International School. Well, well, well I don’t mind to be part of that elite group and rub elbows with trust fund babies at all!

The drive to this German-speaking village part of Switzerland was breath taking. It is like pictures in the calendar, unspoiled natural environment came alive before your very eyes. The wide ranging on-piste terrain mountaintop was accessible by cable car, gondola and chair lifts and the ride was as perfect and wonderful as the unclouded climate that we are having that day. There are plenty of activities like the Siberian husky ride for 10 euro but I regret doing. I know the huskies loved their job of pulling people around a big loop on the sled but I really feel for them. Snow slide riding on a big bubble donut and doing a snow angel as seen in the movies – lying on my back and moving one’s arms up and down, and one’s legs from side to side, to form the shape of an angel. And eat of course; our lunch was covered with the best ambiance but no ice cream for me.

Days before going up to the mountain our tour manager kept checking the weather forecasts. He relate to us his crazy vision that while out for activity the sun will be all shining and while having lunch, the snow will fall. It happened once in his many tours and  he did pray our group will experience the same. No luck though, but  we still considered ourselves lucky because the next day, another tour group scheduled to go up there was ill-fated because of the snow storm.

The top of the mountain was all white and when you look up to the sky it was all blue. It was so heavenly, I have never seen white and I never seen blue until I stepped on this mountain of Gstaad. Breathing the air surrounded by the slippery snow, touching the ice and feeling the chill on my cheek was just an astounding experience. Somehow this lyrics from a church song kept playing in my head ‘though your sins be red as crimson, I will turn them white as snow’. I never really grasped the words but now I fully understood how white, fresh, and illuminating the snow can be. I have a tendency to associate the mountains and the beauty of nature with God. There’s a huge difference on the mere sight of it in photographs than being there …it’s heavenly. You will not just be content in telling yourself that this splendour was formed by chance or the big bang. Surely, you will say only God can create such awesomeness!

 

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“When the wind calls, you know that somewhere in the mountains, it has found the answers that you were looking for. The pull of the horizon overcomes the inertia of reason…And you just have to go.” -Vikram Oberoi

From Pisa our tour bus exited the Tuscany region of Italy heading towards Leysin, Switzerland. The trip on the way to this sunny alpine resort village at the eastern end of a famous lake was an eye candy – the changing colours of the fields, the terraced slopes with their vineyards, the inspiring mountain ranges, scenic villages and towns with their blend of past remnants and modern activity. But all those sights were just a bonus compared to these noteworthy landmarks of nature characterised by its great geographical diversity.

One is the Mont Blanc and I don’t mean that expensive pen, but the highest mountain in the Alps in the European Union.  Mont Blanc means ‘white mountain’ due to its perpetual snowfields and glaciers was such an awesome sight. I have never seen a snowy cap mountain up close, It’s a like a ghostly presence that somehow seems mysterious about its manifestation that makes you feel truly in awe of God’s creation.

And second is the Lake Geneva the largest lake in Western Europe, so large, it has dual citizenship in two countries. 60% lies in Switzerland and 40% lies in France and if you’re so tired of just gazing at the vastness of this lake, go and have a taste by buying yourself a bottle of Evian.  Evian comes from several springs near Evian-les-Bains, France, which rests on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Finally along the shores of Lake Geneva way we made a full stop for a tour and afternoon white wine in this rocky islet, The Château de Chillon (Chillon Castle). The castle looks like a fairy-tale fantasy one you can see in the periodic films set in medieval times. Over the centuries this castle was shaped by three noble families: In 1150 the first structures were built by Thomas I of Savoy and in 14th century the castle fell into disrepair and was primarily used as a prison. In 1536 the Bernese stormed the castle as part of a large uprising and freed prisoners from the castle dungeons. In 1798 the Vaud Revolution broke and captured the Bernese and the castle landed into the hands of the Canton of Vaud from then on up to this day.

As per wiki, this oval shaped castle poking into Lake Geneva was popularized by Lord Byron who carved his name (and I have a photo)  on a pillar of the dungeon  and  wrote the poem The Prisoner of Chillon (1816) about François de Bonivard, a Genevois monk and politician who was imprisoned there from 1530 to 1536. Also, the castle is one of the settings in Henry James’s novella Daisy Miller (1878).

And so I thought all castle dungeons are creepy but there’s nothing eerie about the chambers of this Château at all, It’s all clean and well lit as the rays of the sunset can pierce in through the bar windows. While in there I felt cold in some areas I reckoned that’s it’s must be the limestone structure that’s emits the chill or my consciousness of this place existence from the past and the purpose it served to people  who had a damp and dark  taste of imprisoned life.

The inside of the castle has four small courtyards our tour guide did mentioned that Chillon Castle wasn’t constructed ‘in one go’ – it was originally just a collection of 25 little buildings crammed onto the rocky island but you’ll see that each of the old rooms and outhouses have been connected to each other through a fairly ingenious network of internal and external passageways.

We stayed in Mercure Classic Hotel Leysin, It is a modern 4-star hotel  in the center of the resort. There’s nothing  exceptional here except it’s located on top of the mountain with a really good view of the town. 

“The whole town is like a scene in a periodic movie and the people roaming around this city including us –were out of place!” – Me

We visited Lucerne, an hour train ride from Zurich, a city in north-central and German speaking portion of Switzerland. It is a beautiful small city, a car free zone and small enough to be explored by foot. They have mountain railways that take you high up to one of the surrounding pre-alpine summit close enough for you to experience the mountain snow.  Sad to say, it was gloomy that day so that part of the experience was not advisable. Nevertheless we are not disheartened as we opted for a more relaxing tour instead – a train ride around the city…cho! choo!

Our route will start and end at Hotel SchweizerhofI know right! You cannot pronounce the name, it has a lot of consonants but it just spelled out elegance. This is where Richard Wagner wrote the 3rd act of “Tristan & Isolde”, not only counts emperors and queens among its past guests but Mark Twain and Count Leo Tolstoy have also stayed here. Prominent figures from around the world still visit this nostalgic luxury hotel with its magnificent lakeside location. The hotel reminded of the movie ‘Somewhere in Time’ then again the whole town is like a scene in a periodic movie and the people roaming around this city including us –were out of place!

The hour train ride around town gave us an overview of where we really want to go.  Lucerne was indeed a small but remarkably preserved old town. The streets, passages, and squares are like a maze that you can get lost, plus the low rise buildings seem similar. We started walking around and explore and here’s where we end up.

We had lunch at Restaurant Bodu a restaurant famous for exquisite French Cuisine. On a Sunday morning many people ate here and leisurely spend the day away chatting and munching especially the old folks. I had a glimpse of my future and made me realized hey why not! I still want to go out and eat in a good restaurant and catch up with my friends when I’m old and grey. I want to be like these old folks and be not confined in their own bed and succumbed to their arthritis –this is the part where travelling makes you realized other culture’s perspective and it was good. Anyway back to the food… I forgotten what I ordered but I can’t forget the taste it was one of the best and tasty meal I ever had plus the European, old town ambiance made it perfect!

One of the city’s famous landmarks is the Chapel Bridge  (Kapellbrücke), a wooden bridge originally built in 1333, said to be the oldest wood bridge of Europe, its amusing to walk over it as you can see about 100 pictures of 12th century city life and Swiss history. Much of it had to be replaced after a fire on August 18, 1993, allegedly caused by a discarded cigarette.

The Lion Monument (German: Löwendenkmal) a sculpture designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen to commemorate the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris, France. The sculpture depicts a dying lion and was carved out of a rock face. Above the lion reads the Latin inscription HELVETIORUM FIDEI AC VIRTUTI, which translated into English means “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss“. Below the lion are the Greek numbers DCCLX and CCCL which indicate that 760 soldiers died and 350 survived. From an artistic perspective, the Lion Monument is truly a beautiful piece of work that conveys such sadness and sorrow. Interesting to note, if you look closely, you’ll notice that the surrounding outline of the lion resembles the shape of a pig. Apparently, the sculptor had a falling out with someone associated with the contracting of the memorial that he created the pig shape out of spite. The American writer Mark Twain (1835–1910) praised the sculpture of a mortally-wounded lion as “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”

The Church of St. Leodegar (German: St. Leodegar im Hof or Hofkirche St. Leodegar) for me is a typical old church with a few flight of steps before reaching the front door and when you looked behind you was the view of the town to greet you.  This is the most important church and a landmark in the city. It was built in parts from 1633 to 1639 on the foundation of the Roman basilica which had burnt in 1633. This church was one of the few built north of the Alps during the 30 years war  and one of the largest and art history rich churches of the German late renaissance period. In 1874 the parish church of St. Leodegar was founded and with that the church became simultaneously a monastery church and parish church, as it is today.

Lucerne is a beautiful small city in the heartland of Switzerland, across the lake from Altdorf, where legend has it William Tell shot an apple off of his son’s head. I thanked God I had this opportunity to have a walk around Lucerne and explore this picture perfect town.

Ganymed – Statue in Lake Zurich

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher Hershey

My first time in Europe and I get to stay in Zurich, Switzerland. — Zurich is the leading global city and among the world’s largest financial centres, home to a large number of financial institutions and banking giants like UBS and Credit Suisse has a lot of presence there. Not just the largest city in Switzerland, Zurich was named the city with the best quality of life in the world as well as the wealthiest city in Europe.The official language is German.

The A380

For someone who travels, I hate packing, flying, and most especially turbulence but after experiencing the Singapore Airlines’ A380 the latter was not a problem. This Superjumbo, double-deck, wide body, four-engine jetliner is the largest passenger airplane in the world. Many airports had to modify to accommodate it. I was so amazed because for a 12-hour flight the only time the fasten seat belt sign was lit was when we took off and landed. There was no turbulence in between it was so smooth all throughout, this is definitely flying at its best.

The Hauptbahnhof and Landesmuseum

As soon as we landed and checked in at Holiday Inn we immediately went out and check out the town. We are so excited to see the day to day activities of the locals so we head off immediately to Bahnhofstrasse, which runs from the Zürich Train Main station “Hauptbahnhof” right down to the lake. Bahnhofsstrasse is famous for being one of the most exclusive and expensive shopping streets in the world. We were amazed with what we saw, the town’s landscape, those clock towers, and building was amazing and the people are bustling.  The absence of skyscrapers make the sky more clear,  Europe draws the lower limit of a skyscraper at 150 metres The climate is not at all freezing though its autumn we can still wear tees on midday.

Apart from the shopping districts, we visited the Swiss National Museum or Landesmuseum one of the most important art museums of cultural history in Europe and the world. There are rich section with gothic art, chivalry and a comprehensive collection of liturgical wooden sculptures, panel paintings and carved altars

The Raclette

We got invited to a Raclette dinner by my friend’s colleague, Raclette is Swiss dish based on heating the cheese and scraping (“racler”) off the melted part. The term derives from the French word racler, meaning “to scrape”. Traditionally, it was accompanied by small firm potatoes, mushroom, onions and cubes of meat. I was hungry but I actually enjoyed the cheese and bread and though there’s an absence of rice it was all filling. I also enjoyed the dinner discussions as we are being entertained by French folks and a German colleague who functioned as a medium and translated everything in English for us and vice versa. Before the night was over, I learned how to do a proper faire la bise – a French gesture of exchange kisses on alternating cheeks upon meeting and separating. The number of kisses and the side that the kisses start on vary by region but our host, a very nice mademoiselle from Normandy, France told us the proper way should be 4 kisses are exchanged.

Lake Zurich

I think this is the memorable tour I had in Zurich, having beer and chicken on the top of the boat while cruising around the lake. I love the scenery, the swans swimming lazily and the houses enclosing the lake made me felt that Asia was so far away.  The long, narrow Lake Zürich stretches from the centre of Zürich along a nearly perfect 40-km arc to the southeast. The lake’s water, originating from mountain glaciers, is used (after purification) as Zürich’s drinking water. The house near the lake was so awe-inspiring, I felt a pang of envy just looking at these houses, It has the lake for its backyard and the garage has boats instead of cars.

I really enjoyed my almost 2 weeks in Zurich. While I was there I was thinking of a keepsake for myself that will always remind of this trip. I was thinking of taking a Swiss army knife home but the idea of losing it after sometime clings in my head. So I reckoned since  I’m in Switzerland and apart from cheese they are famous for clocks– Swiss-made clocks are still well-known for their quality and reliability, and intricate mechanics. Since I cannot afford a Rolex, yet. I settled for are true Swiss-made watch  and that is Swatch – I know I’m 2 decades late for owning one and it’s one of those childhood deprivation itch that I longed to scratch. In fairness to my parents, when this brand was popular  I never had one because I already had an expensive brand that is more appealing for older folks  so I wore that until end of college, and by that time Swatch is passe.

Zurich is a great place to experience I can work and stay there given a chance. The transportation is convenient and apart from the pasta dishes and the cheese, I’m going to miss the 3 amigos Mexican restaurant in Oerlikon, Mr Wong that Chinese restaurant in Bahnofplatz, and accidentally we are just too hungry we ate at this oldest vegetarian restaurant in Europe (since 1898) named HILTL. But most of all I will miss hearing the sound of the bell on the clock tower near our hotel, on the hour, by the hour… it never failed…