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 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.