A Travellerspoint blog



We took the train to Lindau, Germany where we picked up a rental car. This will be the second time driving for me on this trip. I survived Italy, so I figured Germany would be a piece of cake! And it was much, much easier to drive here. The roads are really nice, everyone follows the rules and all the sites are well marked. We drove through the back roads to the small Bavarian town of Fussen. Bavaria is similar to Switzerland (and Austria) in some ways, but it is amazing to met how it still has a culture of its own.
The next morning we toured "Mad" King Ludwig's castles. The two famous Bavarian castles are Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. They are really incredibly beautiful, especially against the backdrop of the Bavarian mountains. We got there early in the morning and there were still some low lying clouds against the hillsides. It looked exactly like a fairy tale!1DSC_0744.jpg7DSC_0741.jpg Hohenschwangau was the castle where King Ludwig grew up. It was actually a lot smaller than it looked, but the inside was ornately decorated. Neschwanstein was the castle the Ludwig built for himself, based on the painting by a set designer. It was never completely finished. Ludwig managed to bankrupt the state of Bavaria, was declared mad in order to remove him from the throne, and mysteriously died in the lake by his castle 2 days later. Six weeks after he died, the first tourists came to Neuschwanstein to see what their king was doing. If only he knew how much money his castle brought to Bavaria now! The castle itself is amazing and was the inspiration for Walt Disney's fairy tale castle and Disneyland. Sadly, King Ludwig only spent a couple of months living in the castle. DSC_0745.jpg

From the castles we drove along the back roads to Oberammergau. Oberammergau is the center of German woodcarving. Since we had already seen the Swiss equivalent, we decided to see the German version as well! It was really incredible. There were much larger workshops in Oberammergau, and a lot of the carvings were produced for more commercial means. Some of the special pieces on display had been commisioned by churches or public buildings. The carving was so intricate and detailed -- it was amazing! DSC_0777.jpgWe walked around the town and visited several shops and workshops. Most of the people working in the shops were carvers. My favorite was a woman about my age who had been studying carving and doing carvings for about 10 years. She had a little boy about 10 months old who just hung out in the shop while she carved. He loved flirting with everyone and watching people on the security camera. She, along with other carvers, mentioned that it is getting harder and harder to make a living as a woodcarver. Peole are not buying as much and are not wanting to pay as much money for the really detailed pieces. It is sad, but I guess that this always happens with arts and crafts. As things go out of style, some art is lost. Hopefully the amazing art of German woodcarving will not go that way.

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Luzern and Zurich

From St. Moritz we caught the train to Luzern. Despite the "quietness" of the mountain towns, it was really nice travelling off season. We just woke up each morning, decided where we were going to go and hopped on a train. The tourist info offices in Switzerland are great -- they will even help you find hotels. Once we got to a city we would find a hotel and find where we wanted to go. It was great that my mom was so flexible in travelling. Some people can't just go with the flow, but she loved it.
Luzern is a beautiful town right on the lake. It has an historic city center surrounding by old walls and fortifications. There is also the famous Chapel Bridge -- a wooden structure that spans the river diagonally and was used as part of the town wall. DSC_0673.jpgIt was a beautiful day and it seemed like the entire city was out enjoying the river and the sunshine. One of the most striking monuments in Luzern was the Dying Lion of Luzern. I had read about it, but had no idea how big it would be and how moving. It is a sculpture carved into the side of a cliff to commemorate a group of Swiss Guards who died in the Tuileries. Really remarkable. DSC_0692.jpg

From Luzern we headed back to Zurich. While I was visiting Ryan and Erica, I didn't really spend a lot of time exploring the city. We did have dinner in the city with a friend of theirs and walked around at night afterwards. Zurich is a very pretty city sitting at the top of a lake. My mom and I went to the art museum, which had a great collection of paintings, especially German and Italian. They also had some pretty crazy modern art. I'm just not so into modern art. That hasn't changed on this trip -- if anything, it has been reinforced.
We also walked around the town center and poked inside a couple of the churches. It is really interesting to compare and contrast the churches I saw in Italy, Spain and France with the churches in Switzerland. Switzerland was really one of the hearts of the Protestant movement. Because of that, a lot of the churches were stripped bare of all decorations and iconography. The churches are really beautiful, but most are stark white or beige with little to no decoration. I understand the thinking of the Protestant reformers -- the church had gotten too wealthy and was spending too much money on decoration and not enough on their people. But I can't help but think how much incredible art was destroyed in the name of a new religious order.

During our last night in Zurich, my Mom and I were able to meet up with Ryan, Erica and Mystic for coffee. It was great to see them again, and we had so much fun just chatting and walking around the city. The next day is off to Germany!DSC_0706.jpgDSC_0705.jpg

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Zermatt, Bern, St. Moritz and the Glacier Express

One of the great things about travelling in Europe (and especially in Switzerland) is the train travel. The trains are so easy, efficient and clean. Plus you can watch the countryside go by outside your window. My mom and I took the train up to Zermatt, the alpine village famous as being the gate to the Matterhorn. The train ride was amazing! We took a train up one side of a small valley and had incredible views the whole way. One of the highlights was seeing the "beehouses". Honeybees in Switzerland are kept in small houses as opposed to hives likes in the US. They are small buildings that look like sheds, but on the front there are individual panels (all brightly colored) that are the entrance to the hive. There is a door in the side of the building and the beekeeper goes in that entrance and works the bees from behind. It was really fascinating because it is so different that what we do. The bee houses ranged from little run down shacks to bee palaces. I will try to post some pictures soon. DSC_0523.jpg3DSC_0531.jpg

In Zermatt, we again found that most of the town was shut down. It wasn't as quiet as Grindelwald, but a lot of the hotels and restaurants were closed. It was a nice town to stroll around and the history of the town is very intertwined with the Matterhorn. The church graveyard is filled with graves of people who died trying to ascend the mountain. It was really fascinating. We also went to the Matterhorn Museum. It gave a good idea of what life was like for the people who lived in the valley before tourism. Basically the valley was shut off from the rest of the world during the winter, so villagers had to be totally self-sufficient. These were hardy Alpine folk. Of course there were lots of exhibits about the mountain and the various ascents. One interesting tidbit: Teddy Roosevelt went to Zermatt for his honeymoon and climbed the Matterhorn. Who knew?

Unfortunately for us, we didn't get to see the Matterhorn. It was too cloudy and the mountain never showed itself. We could see the surrounding mountains, just not the most famous one. Our hotelier made us laugh when she said that a lot of the Japanese tourists still take a picture in that direction, whether they can see the mountain or not. We opted to not take any pictures of where a mountain should be.

The next day we had planned to hop on the Glacier Express panoramic train. Unfortunately, it was all booked, so instead we hopped on the train to Bern. DSC_0575.jpgIt ended up being a really nice city. Bern is known for having a well perserved old town, and it is currently the capitol of Switzerland. We enjoyed strolling around the city and poking in the shops. The market was interesting and great for people watching. By far the highlight of the trip to Bern was our walk to the rose garden. The rose garden overlooks the city and has an amazing view. Plus all of the spring flowers were blooming -- wisteria, azaleas, rhododendrons. No roses yet, but the other flowers were so pretty. Plus the rose garden is a neighborhood park. We had fun watching a group of kids playing hide and seek. Another popular thing in Switzerland is the outdoor life size chess board. We saw these in many parks and public squares, and there was almost always a group of men standing around watching two guys play and giving unheeded advice. It was great to just hang out in the gardens and watch people going about their life.9DSC_0596.jpg The even better part of the evening was when we headed to a pub. We walked from the rose garden down to the bear pits. The bear pits are famous in Bern, but alas, there are no longer in any bears in them. The last one died 2 weeks before our visit. I can't say I was sad, because I can't imagine keeping bears in the small concrete pits. Apparently the people of Bern agreed and they are in the process of developing a "bear garden" along the edge of the river near the bear pits.
It just so happened that it started to rain while we were standing there, so we ducked into a building that looked like a former train depot. It turned out to be a brewpub so we sat down and had dinner. It was probably the best meal of the whole trip! The food was amazing -- including a warm Bavarian pretzel and the BEST sweet mustard -- and the beer was awesome on top of it! It is so funny how you sometimes find the best things merely by coincidence.

The next day we hopped on the Glacier Express. DSC_0644.jpgSwitzerland has several train routes that are known as panoramic routes. They run special panoramic cars that have larger windows and windows on the ceiling of the train car.4DSC_0648.jpg It was really cool. The Glacier Express runs from Zermatt to St. Moritz. We hopped on in Brig and rode it to St. Mortiz -- about 7 hours. It was really incredible. We went over some high mountain passes, through lots of tunnels (91!) and over 291 bridges.DSC_0637.jpg We were in the first class car and there were only two other people in the car with us. They were an older brother and sister from Luzern, Switzerland who were taking the trip for the day just to do it. They were a lot of fun to talk to. Everywhere we have gone in Switzerland we have met the nicest people. Everyone seems to want to go out of their way to make sure you learn about and enjoy their country.

We ended the train journey in St. Moritz, which is a world renowned resort town. However, it was even more dead than the other mountain towns we had been in. Only a couple of hotels were open, and I think only one restaurant in town was serving food. This is in a town that is packed with hotels and restaurants. We went to bed early and headed out of town early the next day.

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Lauterbrunnen and the Jungfraujoch; Ballenberg and Brienz

When I started planning my trip to Europe, I invited anyone who wanted to come along. Of course, most people can't take the 4 months that I am doing. But I was happy that several people took me up on the idea of coming to certain places for a week or two. I knew my mom would want to come along, so I gave her free reign to decide when and where she wanted to meet me. She said she had always wanted to go to Switzerland.

My mom flew into Zurich and we were originally planning on staying there for 2 nights. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't the greatest and according to the forecast it was only going to get worse for the next 10 days. Both my Mom and I really wanted to see the Swiss Alps, so instead of staying in Zurich, we hopped on a train from the airport straight to the mountains. We ended up staying in Lauterbrunnen, a small town in the deepest U-shaped valley in the world. It was so beautiful! It was a very small town and so quiet that you could hear the cowbells from across the valley.
My mom arrived on Mother's Day -- a treat for both her and I! I haven't spent a Mother's Day with my mom in a long time, so it was fun to be able to spend it together in Switzerland. We had a great dinner at our hotel in Lauterbrunnen.

The next day we headed up the Jungfraujoch. DSC_0409.jpgDSC_0399.jpgThe Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger mountains are some of the most famous mountains in the Berner Oberland region of Switzerland. The Jungfraujoch is the highest train station in Europe -- they call it the top of Europe. It was totally amazing! The incredible thing is that the train has been in operation for over 100 years. I can't imagine how much work it took to build a rail line up -- and quite often through -- the mountain. The last part of the line is all cog-wheel and feels like you are going almost straight up. The train station itself is actually inside the mountain. DSC_0406.jpgWhen you come out of the station, it is an amazing view of the mountains. This area is also the starting point of the Aletsch glacier, an 11 mile long glacier -- the longest in Europe -- which we could easily see. Unfortunately it was cloudy the day we were there so the visibility wasn't great. We even got snowed on! But we stayed at the Jungfraujoch for a couple of hours and the clouds came and went, so we were able to get a great view even though the weather wasn't perfect.
We took the train back down the other side of the mountain to Grindelwald, a village famous among tourists. It turns out that May is pretty much off-season for the Swiss mountain region, in between skiing and hiking season. A lot of the restaurants and stores were closed, but it was still nice to browse and have a traditional swiss dinner (more fondue - yum!). Plus it was really nice that none of the towns were clogged with tourists. We did see a large number of Indian tourists. It turns out that Switzerland is a very popular tourist destination for Indians. There was even a Bollywood restaurant at the Jungfraujoch! It was fun to watch people, most of whom had never seen snow before. On the train down, we met a very nice Indian couple who told us that May and early June are vacation time in India -- and also the hottest months of the year. Which explains why everyone would want to go to the snow covered mountains!
The next day we left Lauterbrunnen and headed to Brienz. Brienz is a small town on a lake and is known as the center of Swiss woodcarving. We didn't actually know this before going there. My mom is a wood carver and loves to look and see different styles of carving.DSC_0468.jpg We ended up spending the night in Brienz and browsing in the stores and carving schools. We also spent half a day at the Ballenberg Open Air Folk Museum. This was a great museum spread over 160 acres with traditional style Swiss houses from all the different regions of Switzerland.DSC_0460.jpg For being a small country, Switzerland is incredibly diverse with a French speaking, Italian speaking and German speaking region. Each region has its own distinct culture and architecture. It was fun to walk around the museum and see the different styles. A lot of the houses were hands on and had exhibits from farming to cooking to weaving. We got to taste traditional barley soup and fresh made cheese. It was really a fun experience!DSC_0470.jpg

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Uster with the Chew-Howards!

After a great time in Austria, I hopped on the train headed for Zurich, Switzerland. Actually, I was headed to Uster, a town about 10-15 mins train ride outside of Zurich. My friends Erica and Ryan live there and I was really excited to go see them. Erica and Ryan were neighbors of mine at the El-Jo apartments in German Village in Columbus, Ohio. The El-Jo was a really special place. Or rather I should say that the people who lived there were. German Village is an awesome little neighborhood just south of downtown Columbus. It is mainly old victorian style homes that have been renovated, complete with a park in the middle (Schiller Park) and cobblestone streets. I lived there for two years and absolutely loved the neighborhood. You could walk to everything. The apartments we lived in were easily the ugliest buildings in the entire neighborhood! And we had tiny -- I mean TINY -- apartments. But it was right on the park and in a great location. But by far the best thing about the El-Jo were the people. There were 10 apartments and everyone who lived there was all in the same stage of life. Erica and Ryan were the only married couple. It seemed like any night of the week you could find someone to go to dinner with, head to the park with, or just hang out on the lawn chatting. We had numerous parties and BBQs, and even went camping together. It was really great and I have missed that atmosphere everywhere I have lived since.
The last time I saw Erica and Ryan was actually in Corpus Christi! They spent almost two years on a bicycle trip. They started in Switzerland (Erica's home), biked through part of Europe, flew to South America and biked the entire way up South and Central America back to Ohio (Ryan's home). They stopped for a week in Corpus Christi and it was so much fun to have them stay. They moved back to Switzerland in August, so I was excited to get to go see them in their new home! They also have a new addition to their family -- Mystic, a Mississippi mutt that followed them back to Ohio and then on to Switzerland.

Uster is a small town that is really a suburb of Zurich. It is a really cute little town with a central area of shops and the train station. From Erica and Ryan's apartment it is a short 5 minute walk up into a forest where there is a fantastic view of the mountains. It was so beautiful there -- I can't imagine why they would ever leave! Plus Switzerland is just an amazing country. Everything is so clean and efficient, people seem to be very fit and into a healthy lifestyle, there are biking and hiking trails everywhere -- it was wonderful!

It was so nice to stay with friends again. It has definitely made my travelling easier to know there are places where I will be staying with people I know. I am not sure I could do this long of a trip without those built-in breaks. The best part was just hanging out and relaxing with Erica and Ryan. It was great to catch up on emails, do some trip planning, sleep in and hang out on the terrace. We had a great fondue meal, plus Erica made a traditional apple tart thing (can't remember the name) and homemade bread. And of course there was lots of chocolate and cheese to be eaten!

We did a couple of little exploring trips into the surrounding countryside. The first day I was in Uster, we went out to Erica's parents house. It was fun to meet her parents and see the town where she grew up. We borrowed her parents' car (Erica and Ryan don't have one -- no need for one!) and drove into the surrounding hills. We climbed up a tower on one of the hills and had the most amazing view over Lake Zurich and the mountains. Switzerland is such a beautiful country! We ate dinner in Rapperswil and walked around the incredibly picturesque town.

One Saturday, we drove about an hour outside of Zurich. Switzerland is an incredibly small country and I was amazed how far we could go in only an hour. We ended up having lunch at a castle in Sargans overlooking Lichtenstein. We drove back through the mountains and stopped for some yummy ice cream with a great view.
One of the great things about Switzerland (and Europe in general) is that you can take your dog everywhere. You see dogs in restaurant, stores, on the train -- literally everywhere. And no one cares! It is awesome -- I can only imagine how much Gidget and Coco would love to come with us everywhere! We were able to take Mystic with us pretty much everywhere we went. It was so nice that we didn't have to leave her at home. She is such a wonderful dog -- a great personality and she really minds very well for being a stray rescue dog. She really hit the jackpot when she decided Erica and Ryan were her new owners!
I had a great time with Erica and Ryan and it just reminded me how many amazing people I know. I feel so blessed to have the friends that I do and to know the people that I know. It seems like everywhere I have gone in my life, I have met incredible people! Thanks Erica and Ryan for a great stay -- and who knows where we might meet again!

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