Switzerland and Austria: May 25 to
(Pictures are thumbnails. Click on them for a larger view. You may click on the subjects listed to go directly to them.)
Subjects: Switzerland Glacier Express Zermatt Klein Matterhorn Interlaken Alpine Tower Jungfraujoch Train to Wengen Salzburg Sound of Music Vienna (Wien) Hundertwasserhaus Vienna State Opera Hofburg Imperial Palace and Treasury Schonbrunn Palace Clock Museum
Guten Tag Unsere Freundin!!
What a change we found leaving hot, busy, crowded Italy and arriving in the higher altitudes and mountains of Switzerland. It was a pleasant change and reminded us of our home in Colorado. While the exchange rate was not as favorable as in previous countries, we didn't care. A mountain fix was needed! This update will review our travels through the mountains and lakes of Switzerland plus the culture and music of Austria.
Of course, Switzerland is known for its most famous mountain, The Matterhorn. (It is MUCH bigger and certainly more impressive than the small copy at Disneyland!) This view is from Zermatt, which is the starting point for the famous railway, The Glacier Express, which we took. We also explored the inside of two glaciers seeing fun ice sculptures and educational displays. In Austria, we experienced the history, wealth, culture and music of earlier empires. This is the front of the large and imposing Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. All in all, Switzerland's mountains and Austria's history were most impressive.
We are continuing to practice our German as we enter Germany, our 25th country, on our way to Munich. Germany provides us an opportunity to visit castles and explore the famous Rhine Valley. You can check out the Trip Log to see where we were in Switzerland and Austria. Maps of Switzerland and Austria show our travel routes by Eurail and the private Swiss trains.
Back to Top
Switzerland Glacier Express
Our Eurail tickets cover most of the trains in Europe (not England), but there are a few unique and spectacular railways that are not covered. The most famous of these is the Glacier Express in Switzerland. We got off our train from Milan in Brig, Switzerland and rushed out the door of the station to catch the next train leaving to Zermatt. We sat down in first class feeling very relieved to have caught an early train and to be viewing the spectacular mountain scenery. Well, exiting the station to go to another track system should have been a clue that things were different. Eventurally the conductor came and asked for our tickets. When we learned our Eurail tickets were not valid on this private train, we found ourselves needing to buy some quick second class tickets (also necessitating a quick move to that part of the train). Well, when one leaves one country, we have learned that it is best to have currency for the next country right away. In this case, we had exchanged our Lira to Swiss Francs, but still did not have enough for the entire 163 Swiss Franc round trip fare. Luckily, the Swiss were happy to exchange US Dollars to pay the remainder of the charge, saving the day!! Lesson learned. Exchanging money is one of the little things that take some getting used to. We will be providing some tips that we have learned from our world travels in future updates to help any of you who want to do the same.
This is our train, the famous Glacier Express, as we make our way from Brig up the steep grade to Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn. The river you see is gray because it is fed by glacier run off and is colored by the ground up rocks. Along the way, you can see the Swiss use all available land for farming, in this example, grapes, right up the hillsides.
Back to Top
Arriving in Zermatt, we found a lovely small town and a very nice place to stay. Our lodge happened to be a ski condo and was quite roomy, reminding us very much of Colorado ski country. The crowds are much less in evidence than they were in Italy, as you can see in the first picture, and it was QUIET, another marked contrast. Zermatt actually was busier than normal because it was a holiday weekend and many people had come up for the holiday. From the center of town and the front of a church, the Matterhorn stands high over the town and is quite a sight. On a later hike, we were above a tiny village situated at the bottom of a glacial valley. Click on the last picture to see the warning sign and get a reading on how steep the slope of the road is.
Update on our last Graffiti Editorial: Switzerland has a little near a few railway stations, but is VERY clean overall. Good news!
Walking around town, we passed a Swiss cemetery. You get a sense of how fastidious and organized the Swiss are just by looking at the graves. Click on the picture to see that every single grave was clean, had flowers and did not use any more than a minimum of space. For a cemetery, it was lovely, but the number of children's graves were poignant testimony to how hard mountain life could be. Further down the trail, we found a great park with a super huge chess set. Stephanie is moving a pawn starting her winning strategy early in the game against her Mom. The result was actually a draw because the sun was setting behind the tall mountains.
We also took a few hikes which felt really good! Here are Jennifer and Stephanie climbing a trail alongside the tracks of one of another private company's trains which climbed further up from Zermatt. Denny and Steffi enjoy a pause on the side of the mountain at a restaurant. We ordered Swiss cheese fondue, which was filling enough for an entire regular meal. Above all Swiss towns, there are many small cabins or houses, such as this one, built some time ago. The roofs are all covered with rock slate as you can see if you click on the picture. Very long lasting.
Back to Top
The next day, we bought a lift ticket to take a gondola and then a tram up to a ski area near the Matterhorn, called Klein Matterhorn. The first picture is a view of the glacier valley that Zermatt sits in. Also visible to the right is Switzerland's highest mountain, the Dom, at 14,912 feet. The spans on the tram are quite long with the vertical angle very steep as it approaches the station at the top. And, finally, a spectacular shot of the Matterhorn itself with Italy beyond its left flank. As you can see, it does not stand alone and is in the middle of a range of spectacular mountains; but its position gives it the appearance of isolation from below and thus its spectacular presence. From the valley in Zermatt, it looks like it is all by itself and that is one of the reasons it is so entrancing. Any of these peaks would be uniquely spectacular viewed alone.
From the midway station, we enjoy a snack while enjoying the spectacular scenery. Stephanie has fun framing the mountain with her hands for the picture.
Of course, glaciers are everywhere in Switzerland. At the top of Klein Matterhorn, we entered a tunnel dug into the glacier there. It was a lot of fun checking our some of the nice ice sculptures on display. Click on the last picture to get a good view of what the sculptures are. Hint: they are birds.
Back to Top
We left Zermatt and took the Glacier Express back down the valley to Brig to catch a regular Swiss train north to Interlaken. It is a small town situated between two lakes, called Brienzer See and Thuner See, hence the German name Inter-Lake(n). Again, the water feeding the lakes is glacial so the color is very green, although not nearly as brilliant or turquoise as what we experienced in New Zealand.
Back to Top
Another day and another short train ride took us along the Brienzer See to the town of Mieringen where a short hike, a tram and three gondolas delivered us to the ski area called Alpine Tower. The views from the top were 360 degrees of again spectacular mountains, glaciers and steep farming valleys. Click on the first picture to see the distance signs and a view of the distant mountains. Steffi gestures to show how great and large these mountains are. Jennifer and Stephanie view the mountains from the tower's restaurant showing the valley of an active glacier in the background.
Back to Top
Yet another day, we took the alpine cog railroad from Interlaken first to Grindelwald and then further up the mountain on our way to a neat place called Jungfraujoch. You can see how steep the climb is on the railway by checking our the angle and scenery in the window behind Denny and Jennifer. Towards the top there is a ski area, Kleine Scheidegg, where the final cog railway starts its climb up and through a very long tunnel in the Eiger mountain (remember the book and Clint Eastwood movie, The Eiger Sanction?) before emerging at the Jungfraujoch, actually a saddle between the adjacent Monch (monk) and Jungfrau (young maiden) mountains. The views looking down the valleys as we ascend are gorgeous.
This is a shot from the train of the Eiger mountain before we enter the tunnel. Once in the tunnel, they stop twice to let you walk out to some windows that look out over the valley below. You can see there is still a lot of snow around the windows from the side of the tunnel.
When we reached the end of the railway tunnel, we emerged from the station inside the mountain to experience both spectacular weather and scenery. Above the main station (which contains many restaurants, exhibits and tourist shops, of course) is a permanent research and weather station and high viewing platform called The Sphinx. We made our way through the tunnel to the base of the Sphinx and took a lift (elevator) to the top. Click on the last picture to see some people (dots) climbing on the glacier below us.
Just as we saw at Klein Matterhorn, there is a very large ice cave carved into the glacier. The long entrance tunnel leads to an extensive array of tunnels and neat [ie, cool] ice sculptures. Click on the next three pictures to check out the eagles, Eskimos and even better penguins.
Back to Top
Train to Wengen
Kleine Scheidegg, the settlement that connects with the train up to the Jungfraujoch, is at the top of a rail loop. After going up from Grindelwald, we elected to descend the opposite valley towards the beautiful town of Wengen. The train is shown passing some steep countryside where lots of typical Swiss brown cows, happy and healthy, (and no diseases of any kind!) are grazing on the hillsides. Most cows and goats wear bells so the farmer can find them at milking time, so passing through a Swiss alpine meadow is a feast for eyes and ears. The last picture shows the train coming up the steep slope through a snow shed which keeps winter avalanches from closing the train track.
This shot shows the town of Wengen below. On our way to the bottom to the valley from Wengen to Lauterbrunnen, Stephanie counted 54 different waterfalls! Last, a view back up towards the rugged mountains near the Jungfraujoch.
With all the spectacular scenery and fun hiking that Switzerland has to offer, it was hard to leave. We debated staying for several more days (probably at Wengen), but decided that we could actually see some similar scenes in Colorado, which we are now missing a lot! So, we elected to continue on to see more sights and countries, which is the real purpose of our Odyssey. The next day, we took another Eurail train (one already paid for!) east through more of the spectacular Alps toward Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg gets it's name from the Latin word "sal" for salt. Five salt mines are located in this area and
Back to Top
From crowded (and cultural) Italy to uncrowded and quiet Switzerland and now on to beautiful, cultural and musical Austria. Arriving in Salzburg, we took a stroll at night and got a few nice shots of the town. The river that flows through the Salzburg is the Salzach, shown here at night. This brightly lit church was near our hotel. St. Peter's Cathedral looms high above the narrow streets in the old part of town. Most buildings have beautiful flower boxes adorning the windows. We passed this very colorful cow in someone's front yard, reminding us of Chicago's wonderful cows.
This is a high mountain right outside Salzburg with a tram to the top, which we did not visit. Over 400 feet above Salzburg is the HohenSalzburg Fortress which was built starting in 1077, perhaps the largest intact fortress in Europe from this time; it was never breached. As you can see, it dominates Salzburg's skyline. We elected not to walk up to the castle, which has several museums, but it does provide great background views from everywhere around Salzburg. The Mirabell Palace shown on the left in the last picture with its beautiful gardens are framed below the HohenSalzburg Fortress.
Since the early Roman days where Roman soldiers were paid in salt (called the White Gold), Salzburg has been noted for and named after its salt mines in the surrounding mountains. Stephanie and Jennifer went off to find out how it was done. Denny stayed in Salzburg figuring out how to get our broken Nikon digital camera fixed: the quality of these pictures is poor since they came from the video camera. Nonetheless, you can see Jennifer wearing the thick canvas type coveralls that salt miners wear. Next, the train that pulls tourists into the mine sit tightly packed on the "rail" cars behind. Finally, one reason for the coveralls is the slide which miners and visitors use to get down to the mines. You can see people coming down one of the three long slides. If the coveralls weren't on, you would find yourself getting very burned from the friction during the steep 43 meter trip. It was fun!! We climbed up for a second run.
Back to Top
Sound of Music
Salzburg was the location for the musical, Sound of Music so we took a Sound of Music tour to see the countryside and some of the sights from the movie including this mansion where Maria and the Baron's fiancee meet. (It's now a Harvard University conference center and summer school.) The yellow house used for the Von Trapp stately family home is seen here with its long driveway leading up to it. Finally, the gazebo from the movie was actually built by 20th Century Fox and was given to larger estate to commemorate the movie. Harvard didn't appreciate the tourists so they asked it to be moved to its present location. We learned from the tour guide that Austrians don't care for the movie as it is inaccurate on many accounts. Most Austrians have not actually seen the movie and find the world's fascination with it to be very strange. When the movie opened in Austria in 1965, it was a total flop!
Back to Top
We continued by train further east to Vienna (Wien), the capital of Austria. It is a large clean city with lots of music and history behind it. We started with a tour on the Danube River shown here along the outskirts of the city. There is a canal that passes through the main part of the city which is controlled by locks to prevent flooding. As we proceeded down the smaller canal in the center of the city, an interesting sight was this tall towered rubbish incineration plant, which is quite elaborately decorated. Austria's most famous modern artist is Friedensreich Hundertwasser who was architect of a number of buildings including this one. Very fun and spectacular. Further up the Danube is a group of buildings surrounding the United Nations complex shown here (the lower curved buildings). Vienna is one of the three main UN cities, after Geneva and New York.
This is an exterior shot of St. Stephan's Gothic Cathedral which dominates the Vienna skyline, called 'Steve' by the locals. Next, a shot of part of the large Hofburg Palace. This place is huge with many wings and buildings and courtyards. It was actually difficult to find the proper entrances even with a map. And a scene along one of Vienna's pedestrian streets with an old ornate memorial in the middle of a plaza. Lots of people (mostly tourists) were in these streets day and night.
Back to Top
We mentioned above a famous Viennese artist, Hundertwasser. This is a low-income housing complex called Hundertwasserhaus. It would be quite a place to live at least as viewed from the outside. Lots of tourists keep it very busy. Click on the pictures so that you can more easily see the colors and fascinating designs that have been used. It was a fun place to visit as you can see Steffi leaning on a colorful tiled column in the courtyard under the building.
Back to Top
Vienna State Opera
A trip to Vienna would not be complete without a trip to the world famous Vienna State Opera, which you see here in the first picture. We have mentioned previously that the restoration and cleaning business would be a great one in Europe. This is a building that is in need of a cleaning. On a tour inside, we learned that the person responsible for the early success of the opera was manager, Gustav Mahler, shown in this painting. He was the one that started theater trends used today, such as lowering the lights when performances were going on and not letting late comers in until a break. He is much revered in Vienna. You can see the rows of seats around the walls of the Opera House. Incredibly, they have performances every night for 10 months of the year with no repeat performances on consecutive nights. Over 70 different operas are performed each year. (Our guide asked us to try to name 70 operas...not likely most people would get over 10.) To encourage attendance by all people, the state subsidizes the opera and even sells standing room only seats for only 30 schillings (about $2 US). Click on the last picture to see the standing room bars at the top. We took advantage of this and watched Mozart's Don Giovanni from the top row for about one and a half hours (of what would have been 3.5 hours in total) until Steffi got a little tired of standing. Another night, we went to a terrific Beethoven piano competition at the Musikverein music hall, but pictures were not allowed in that beautifully restored gilt jewelbox.)
Back to Top
Hofburg Imperial Palace and Treasury
Here is another view of the large Hofburg Imperial Palace. One of the main parts of the palace is called the Treasury which contains probably the best collection of jewelry in Europe. This crown and scepter is just one of many fabulously ornate pieces of work that the Habsburgs collected and used. The rubies and sapphires were about the size of a half-dollar--or big radishes.
Back to Top
The most spectacular and most visited site in Vienna is the Schronbrunn Palace, a 7 km subway ride from the center of the city. This was the summer residence of the Habsburgs, including emperor Franz Josef II and the famous Maria Theresa. While the palace has 1,441 rooms, only the 40 largest and most elaborate are on the tour. The palace is shown here from the rear where an enormous park and flowered garden surround the palace. In a view from the palace, you can see a huge fountain and a collonade up on the hill called the Gloriette. Finally, in one picture that we were able to sneak in (no cameras allowed), a shot of a large meeting room, which was the site of the famous cold war meeting between Kennedy and Khrushchev.
In the park behind the palace was a fun and fabulous large maze made up of hedges. Here is Steffi trying to figure her way from the outside to the center. In the last shot, she is seen from the viewing platform at the center of the maze... the place you reach when you are successful. We all worked for over 10 minutes to get through the maze, making virtually every error possible along the way! The 25 schilling ($1.50 US) entrance fee was well worth it! This was originally one of three much larger mazes. We'd still be lost there today if that were true!
Back to Top
Vienna has many, many museums and you could spend a week just visiting them all. After seeing the Hofburg and Schonbrunn Palaces we picked one that interested us all, the Clock Museum. This great little museum was filled with over 300 old clocks and watches. The first two large pieces are astrological clocks showing position of the planets as well as the time, date and moon phases. The first one dates back to 1745. Jennifer and Steffi enjoy looking at some old grandfather clocks from the early 18th century. We arrived at the museum at about 4 PM and were really rushing to finish one hour later at closing time. We could have spent another hour there enjoying this fine museum.
Back to Top