Andy’s Adventure to the land of Cheese, Chocolate, Watches and Snow! (Part 4) – Top of Europe and The South African Kuier!

After the first parts of the Switzerland Adventure, exploring two wonderful Swiss cities, the awesome Michelin Star dining experience and the beautiful train and journey to Interlaken, it was time to explore the Jungfrau Region in the Bernese Alps.

After a lovely breakfast of cold meats, cheeses, breads and hot chocolate at the Hotel Alpenrose in Wilderswil, it was time to head into the mountains on an adventure to the Top of Europe. The route would be one which would become a very well travelled one over the next week. First on the travel plan was the train journey from Wilderswil through Zweilütschinen to Lauterbrunnen. Then there was a change of trains which would continue the journey through Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg. On segment of the journey two iconic sections of the Lauberhorn Downhill Skiing World Cup course were visible. Firstly the section called Wasserstation tunnel where the course drops under the railway bridge and secondly the famous signature Hundschopf jump – about a 40-60m jump over a rock nose. The Lauberhorn Races, hosted in Wengen in mid January, have a very interesting a rich history. First held in 1930, it is one of the oldest continuously held downhill races. It is also the longest downhill on the World Cup circuit at about 4.4km when most others are typically 3.2km or so. The Haneggschuss section is where the Frenchman Johan Clarey set the fastest speed ever recorded in a World Cup race in 2013 – a staggering 161.9 kilometres per hour! Top speeds on the Haneggschuss regularly approach 160kph. For the brave adventurers the course is open to ski after the World Cup events (Downhill, Slalom and Combined) and is listed on piste maps as Lauberhorn-Weltcup Abfahrt and carries number 45.

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The famous Hundschopf jump on the Lauberhorn World Cup Downhill Ski course.

Kleine Scheidegg is the end station for most people as it is an access point for the start of many of ski slopes and also has some great Après-ski places. But for the adventurers it was the sight of a change of train onto the Jungfraubahn. The Jungfraubahn has a really astonishing history! The concession for the railway was received in 1894 by industrialist Adolf Guyer-Zeller. In 1896 construction of the railway began. The Eigergletscher Station at the foot of the Eiger mountain was opened in 1898. The tunnel section to the Eigerwand Station was opened in 1903 and the tunnel section to Eismeer was opened in 1905. Finally in 1912, on the 21 February, the tunnelling crew breaks through the glacier at Jungfraujoch. In the construction years there were two explosions, a four month strike and 6 workers were killed. The station at Jungfraujoch is the highest railway station in Europe. The first stop on this part of the trip was at Eigergletscher (2320m) where there is a restaurant but more of that in the next blog post. The next stop is for about 5 minutes at a viewing platform of Eigerwand (2865m) followed by another short stop at Eismeer (3160m). Finally the train stopped at Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe (3454m)! After admiring the beautiful view down the glacier, it was time to tour Jungfraujoch through the network of tunnels. The first part of the tour took the adventurers to an area containing information on the research station at Jungfraujoch and the observatory. It was here which some free Lindt Chocolate was being handed out, the significance of which will be revealed a bit later. A lift ride followed which took us to the Sphinx Observatory and out to the viewing platform to savour some of the breathtaking views of the Mönch and Jungfrau peaks. The tunnel route continued through the Alpine Sensation which had Alpine themed wooden carvings. Next was a section on the history of the construction. Then there was the Eispalast section. This whole tunnel section was made from ice and had ice carvings of animals at various points. The somewhat cooler Eispalast section prepared the adventurers for the next section of the Jungfraujoch tour – outside again but this time on the ground instead of the viewing platform of the Sphinx Observatory. This part had a large Christmas tree. The tour continued with the second last stop. This stop would be considered the best by many people. It was at none other than a Swiss icon – the Lindt Chocolate Heaven mini museum and shop! Naturally chocolates were bought at this shop. The end of the tour was at a well stocked souvenir shop. Here is a collection of some of the many photos taken at Jungfraujoch. Please click on them to see the larger image.

The adventurers then had a choice to either search for some lunch at Jungfraujoch or head down to Kleine Scheidegg for some lunch. The decision was made to head to Kleine Scheidegg. After a bit of a wait the train journey was undertaken in reverse, with only the Eigergletscher stop. A late lunch was had at Röstizzeria comprising of a dish which would be repeated many times over the remainder of the Swiss Adventure. This was traditional Swiss Alpine Macaroni. I will divulge into that in more detail in the next post. The local Rugenbräu beer was enjoyed as well. Then it was time to catch the Wengenalpbahn back down through Wengen to Lauterbrunnen. The Wengenalpbahn is actually the world’s longest continuous rack and pinion railway at 19.091 kilometres. It links Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald with trains from both terminating at Kleine Scheidegg which is located between the two. From Lauterbrunnen the Berner Oberland Bahn train was travelled on to Wilderswil.

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Swiss Alpine Macaroni with Rugenbrau.

The evening was all about reuniting with old friends, for some, and meeting new friends, for some, but most importantly having a good old South African kuier, for all! While the two adventurers were frolicking in the mountains the other South Africans, who now live in the United Kingdom and Ireland, arrived. These were Lindie, Louis and Wilco. Our fantastic hosts, Carel and Ryan, kept all our glasses filled with Moët and/or Chocolate Block red wine throughout the evening. The dinner of lamb, vegetables, salad and a strawberry dessert was excellent. Carel and Ryan did, in the words of my Grandfather, excel themselves! After dinner the kuier continued with music and dancing as well as the European tradition of exchanging Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve. For all my non-South African fellow adventurers the word “kuier” is an Afrikaans word meaning visit according to a strict translation but is also used in the wider sense of really connecting with the people present through the related activities etc of the visit. After a great kuier it was time to recharge and catch some sleep.

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The delicious dinner with Champagne and red wine.

If you enjoyed this adventure to the Top of Europe then please like and share so that others can also experience the adventure we (you and I) have just been on. Comments are appreciated. Please check back soon for the next episode of the Swiss blog posts. You can also see more pictures from the Switzerland Adventure on my Instagram – @andyrlapin.

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Andy’s Adventure to the land of Cheese, Chocolate, Watches and Snow! (Part 3) – Three Trains and a Van with Amazing Views!

After the first two parts of the Switzerland Adventure, exploring two wonderful Swiss cities and the awesome Michelin Star dining experience, it was time for the third and longest part of the entire adventure.

After a leisurely breakfast it was time for the last “mission” in Zürich – a trip to the Nespresso shop. On the way the two adventurers made one last stop in Lindenhof to admire the crisp and cloudless views of Zürich. Then it was time to fetch the luggage and to say “Wideluege” to the Sorell Hotel Rütli. That hotel was fabulous and definitely my choice for future trips to Zürich. The two adventurers enjoyed the short stroll, with a few items of luggage made heavier by Christmas Market and Nespresso shopping, across the bridge over the Limmat River to Zürich Hauptbahnhof. Although on the bridge there was the final rest stop to admire the beauty of the sun sparkling on the Limmat River.

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The view of the Limmat River towards the Zurichsee.

The first leg on the train journey would be on the 13.35 InterRegio departing from Gleis 10 and stopping at Thalwil, Baar, Zug, Rotkreuz and finally Luzern. The train was a double-decker train and had one of those typically Swiss red locomotives. While waiting for the train the obligatory Brezelkonig pretzels were purchased.

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A SBB CFF FFS locomotive of the train that would transport us to Luzern.

Upon arriving in Luzern a quick look at the train departures board and time calculation followed. The two adventurers then dragged all the luggage out the Bahnhof Luzern and onto the bridge where the Reuss River leaves Lake Lucerne with view to the right of Lake Lucerne and to the left the famous wooden bridge of Luzern – the Kapellbrücke. The Reuss flows from the Gotthard Massif into Lake Lucerne at Seedorf at the southernmost point of the lake. It then flows out the lake at Luzern in a north-east direction and, after various confluences, eventually flows as the Aare River into the Rhein River at Koblenz. That is the Swiss Koblenz to the north west of Zürich on the border between Switzerland and Germany. The obligatory photographs of the interesting and historic Kapellbrücke were then taken. The wooden footbridge spanning diagonally across the Reuss was named after the nearby St. Peter’s Chapel. It was constructed in 1333 as part of Luzern’s fortifications, although the Wasserturm predates the bridge by about 30 years. The Wasserturm is not a “water tower” as the name suggests but rather stems from the fact that the bridge was built in water. The bridge is also the oldest surviving truss bridge in the world. Inside the bridge are paintings dating back to the 17th century. A unique and interesting fact is that only Luzern’s three bridges – Kapellbrücke, the now destroyed Hofbrücke and the Spreuerbrücke are the only the only wooden footbridges in Europe which featured interior triangular painted frames. Sadly after the fire in 1993 only about 30 paintings were fully restored of 47 that were collected. Initially there were 158 interior paintings.

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The famous Kapellbrucke with Wasserturm in Luzern.

Then it was back through the frontage which is all that remains from the station constructed in 1896. The whole station in Luzern was destroyed by fire on 5 February 1971. The present station was opened on 5 February 1991. It was the 15.05 InteRegio “Luzern-Interlaken Express” which would convey the two adventurers on an extremely scenic route passed picturesque towns such as Giswil and Lungren and then over the mountains to Meiringen and onto Interlaken Ost. It was in the mountains around Brünig-Hasliberg that the first bit of snow was sighted! Meiringen might ring a bell to some of you who have read about two characters who were created by British author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and also went on adventures such as “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” and “The Adventure of the Empty House”. There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact. These two characters were none other than Sherlock Holmes and his dear Watson. Meiringen is the location of the Reichenbach Falls which is the location of the presumed death of Sherlock Holmes.

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A remaining frontage of the 1896 Bahnhof Luzern with the new station in the background.
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The route of the “Luzern-Interlaken Express”.
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Snow in the mountains near Brunig-Hasliberg from the train.

The train journey continued passing along the shore of the beautiful Brienzersee with clear blue water. The sunset and clouds provided an amazing addition to complete the view of the water and distant snow capped mountains. Eventually at 16.55 the Luzern-Interlaken Express glided to a stop in Interlaken’s Interlaken Ost Station. The other station is Interlaken West. But the two adventurers’ journey was not complete just yet. It was now time for the extremely short third leg of the day’s train journeys aboard the Berner-Oberland Bahn to Wilderswil, essentially the gateway to the Jungfrau region. After disembarking it was a very short walk to the fabulous Hotel Alpenrose. This hotel will be covered in more detail in the next blog post. The time had arrived to finally meet our hosts – Carel and Ryan. Over the course of the next 10 days they would become friends whom I hold in very high regard and it was definitely an honour to have met them.

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Beautiful view of the Brienzersee.
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The third and final train.
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The two adventurers happy to eventually be in Wilderswil.

Finally it was time for some greatly anticipated dinner and along with some wine. The four South Africans shared a bottle of The Chocolate Block red wine originates from Franschhoek in South Africa. Starter was a delicious soup of the day followed by Rösti with Bratwurst and onion sauce. After the delicious dinner it was time to travel back to Interlaken – luckily in a van this time and directly to our final destination. A quick unpacking and orientation followed. The two adventurers then walked along the side of the Höhematte Park to Ice Magic. In a few days time this would be the scene of the beginning of another adventure which will conclude on 1 March 2016. But for this evening, Ice Magic was the perfect setting to relax and end off the long day of travelling from Zürich with coffee and Glühwein.

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The Hotel Alpenrose!
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The Chocolate Block wine.
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Soup of the day at the Alpenrose.
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Rosti with Bratwurst.
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Ice Magic in Hohematte.
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Ice rink at Ice Magic.
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Delicious Gluhwein at Ice Magic.

If you enjoyed this train adventure then please like and share so that others can also experience the adventure we (you and I) have just been on. Comments are appreciated. Please check back soon for the next episode of the Swiss Adveture blog posts. You can also see more pictures from the Switzerland Adventure on my Instagram – @andyrlapin.

Andy’s Adventure to the land of Cheese, Chocolate, Watches and Snow! (Part 1)

This was definitely one of the best Adventures of all time! It also literally started with an Adventure.

Departure from Johannesburg and the Frankfurt Connection

After security and passport control it was time for some relaxation with my adventurous travelling partner, Adele, in the Bidvest Lounge before the first of two flights. Some sparkling wine was just what was needed to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas Holidays and the start of the amazing Swiss Adventure!

But, alas, the electronic departure board had some news for us. South African Airways flight SA260 had a delay of 1 hour. Oh well, we just had an hour less shopping time at the next airport which has some great shopping options. The excitement increased as the boarding process was finally carried out. Once we had boarded and taken our seats, luckily the second row from the front of economy, we sat. And we sat. And we sat some more. Eventually it was take off time – over 1 hour 40 minutes later. The delay put a huge time pressure on us for our connecting flight. The time of 2 hours and 15 minutes between landing and take off was now shaved down to just 35 minutes with passport control and very thorough airport security to get through!

We literally hit the ground running in a very misty Flughafen Frankfurt am Main. Would the Germans wait for two South African adventurers? After some running we arrived at passport control, luckily with no queue. Then it was to the German airport security. Luckily Frankfurt is very well organised and have a “Fast Lane” security option for passengers with time constrained connecting flights. We arrived at the gate 2 minutes before boarding commenced.

The Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Zürich was fairly short and carried out with the efficiency the Germans pride themselves in. Finally it was touch down in Zürich! Zürich is a delightful city on the northwestern tip of Lake Zürich with about 2 million people within the Zürich metropolitan area.

Zürich Teil Eins

The hotel in Zürich was the Sorell Hotel Rütli, a perfect little hotel a few minutes walk from the railway station. After checking in it was time to go on an adventure and explore the wonderful city. From the Sunday we arrived until the Wednesday that we departed, with the exception of Monday when we did a trip to Basel for the day, we explored Zürich and the Christmas Markets.

The first Christmas Market we came across was the one inside Zürich Hauptbahnhof, the main railway station. This had numerous stalls selling everything from crafts to food and drinks. One of the first stalls we came across was selling “Maroni”. This was something new to us adventurers and turned out to be roasted chestnuts. Since the gentleman occupying the stall was kind enough to give us one to taste we ended up buying one “Glühwein Rot <Alpenrose>” and one Glühwein weiss <Edelweis>” from his “Glühroni” stall. The Christmas Market had stalls selling chocolate made in the shapes of tools, cheeses, salamis and cold meats, nuts with various coatings and, what was to become a favourite, Schmalzkuchen (absolutely delicious little German pastries) amongst others. This railway station Christmas Market had the Swarovski crystal Christmas tree which was spectacular!

In the evening we explored another Christmas Market which was fairly new to the Zürich Christmas Market scene. This was the Singing Christmas Tree Market. The Christmas Tree has places where choirs can stand in the tree and perform. A nice touch is that they get people from the crowd to join them up in the tree and participate by ringing the traditional Swiss cow bells. The conductor shows the tree a colour and they ring the bell of the same colour. This was a really enjoyable time listening to the carols, singing and music. Then, it was time to find dinner. The noses of the adventurers detected a very nice smell from a little hut at the Singing Christmas Tree Market. Venturing inside the source of the lovely aroma was found to be a cheese fondue. Naturally the only option was to sit down and have a traditional Swiss cheese fondue. Served on the side was hot cider.

Basel für den Tag

Monday morning was the day for the planned adventure to Basel, Switzerland’s third most populous city after Zürich and Geneva. It is a city that is located on the borders of Switzerland, France and Germany and actually has suburbs in all three countries. The day did involve a slightly later start in order to catch up on some sleep from the travelling. This was actually a good thing since it was raining a bit in Zürich in the morning. The train journey from Zürich HB to Basel SBB (there are two stations in Basel – Basel SBB is the Swiss station while Basel Badischer Bahnhof is over the Rhein and is the German DB station) ranges from around 53 minutes to about 1 hour 4 minutes depending on the InterCity or InterRegio trains and the number of stops. Exiting the station the adventurers began the short walk towards the city centre and the main sights. But there was a distraction and detour along the way. This was in the form of Schiesser Chocolatier, hidden away in the UBS building on the corner of St. Alban-Graben and Aeschenvorstadt. Of course the only logical thing to do was to go and have a look and hopefully a taste. While admiring the different chocolates the friendly Schiesser lady offered us each a taste of a chocolate of our choice. Wow! It was so delicious that we each ended up purchasing four chocolates. It took a lot of willpower to not just eat all four chocolates there and then. The friendly Schiesser lady did inform us of their main branch with a tea room at Marktplatz.

With our precious cargo safely packed we continued towards the first objective – the Rhein at Wettsteinbrücke, Basel’s second oldest bridge over the Rhein although it has since been replaced by a new structure. The views of the Rhein from the bridge were fabulous. On the Kleinbasel side on the north bank of the Rhein the river bank is fairly low whereas on the southern side the bank rises up quite high and quite steeply. The exploratory walk continued along the bank on the Kleinbasel side. This provided great views with the Rhein in the foreground and some beautiful buildings of Grossbasel, most notably the spires of the famous Basler Münster, a building with a very interesting history. It was originally a Catholic Cathedral but today is a Reformed Protestant Church and construction took place between 1019 and 1500! It was destroyed during an earthquake on 18 October 1356. That earthquake is considered the most significant seismological event to have occurred in Central Europe in recorded history. It is built in Romanesque and Gothic styles. Of course the obligatory temperature analysis of the Rhein was done using the finger test. Yes, it was very cold!

Upon reaching the Mittlere Brücke (which is the oldest bridge in Basel), Greifengasse leading away from the Rhein into Kleinbasel looked quite vibey and a hive of activity. So the adventurers followed it and explored some of the shops along it. This lead us to Claraplatz and an inviting looking stand selling some delicacies outside the St. Clara-kirche. Naturally a “snowball” needed to be tasted. This turned out to be a delicious coconut “cutie pie” type delicacy.

Then it was time to make our way back across the Rhein which we did by crossing the Johanniterbrücke. From there we walked through the university hospital area of Basel which lead us to Marktplatz where the Rathaus (Town Hall) is. Of course a visit to the Schiesser tea room and shop was a given. As was a pretzel from Brezelkonig.

Time to move on to find the Basler Münster. This was done via a quiet but extremely delightful cobbled street with buildings a few hundred years old. This lead us to the far end of the Münsterplatz right at the Christmas Market. This Christmas market was small but had wonderful food. A small sample of some rösti resulted in the purchase of a plate of rösti with some garlic sauce and sample of Glühwein. A quick walk around the beautiful interior of the Münster and it was time to walk back towards the station, with a detour to another Christmas Market at Barfüsserplatz. Since this was a bigger market there was more on offer with some elaborate stalls, including talking mooses. A purchase of some nutella nuts was made.

The decision was then made to head to the station and return to Zürich. A rest stop at the hotel was made before some more night time exploring of Zürich was done. This exploring lead the adventurers to another, much bigger Christmas Market on the shore of the Zürichsee at Sechseläutenplatz. This market provided a real treat – truffle cheese! Dinner was Glühwein and freshly made potato crisps.

Zurück in Zürich

Tuesday was the last day of the Zürich adventures and involved some exploring and a boat trip on the Zürichsee from/to Bürkliplatz to Zollikon and Thalwil. The day involved more visits to department stores where I had my eye on, but ultimately ended up not purchasing unfortunately, a very nice Certina watch – perhaps one day I will purchase it. The first part of the Switzerland Adventure ended with the ultimate food adventure which deserves it’s very own blog post.

If you enjoyed the first part of the Switzerland Adventure please like and share. Comments are appreciated. Please check back soon for the rest of the Swiss blog posts. The next post will be about the Adventure of the evening of Tuesday 22 December 2015. After the part 2 of the Swiss adventure will be posted. You can also see more pictures from the Switzerland Adventure on my Instagram @andyrlapin.