Switzerland


After my recent bike tour I spent a few days in Lucern, Switzerland. Or, as my title would suggest: Lucerne or Luzern. The city names all seem to be interchangeable and it all depends on what you’re reading. The train station is ‘Luzern’ and that’s pretty official! Google maps will find them all.

The photo I put at the top is one among my favs of my short visit but I must have taken hundreds between the lake view and the mountain hikes and in between. This shot was taken from the back of one of the many tour boats that ply the lake all day long. The gulls like to follow them as the boats take off and churn up the water.

I have made a short visit to Lucern in the past but it was long ago. Almost 20 years ago. What I remembered was that it was a very beautiful spot and so I wanted to return for a short stay before heading home via Zurich, an hour away.

My hotel stay for the duration turned out to be just right for me. I snagged the photo of the hotel along the way. When I say ‘just right’ it turned out to have some things that I really liked: first among them was that I could drive up and park right next to it since I had a car, and they had parking. Then (as planned) I had booked a lake side room and even though the [single] room was ridiculously small it had all I needed AND the little balcony. I could sit for hours just having the door open to that balcony and watch the world below go by. The weather changed by the minute. The boats came and went. So despite the crackerbox room, the ability to enjoy the view from that perch was worth the 4-star price of admission.

On my first full day in Lucern I was up early and arranged to make my way to nearby Mt Rigi. The plan was to get to the top while the morning sun was still allowing great views and then hike.

I chose to take advantage of the well established tourist route to the top of Rigi: I booked a round trip via the Vierwaldst├Ąttersee to the top of Rigi. What that implied was the following itinerary: 1st, that you take a lovely boat ride down the lake to Vitznau and from there, a cogwheel train up to the very top of Mt Rigi at around 5900 ft above sea level.

One of the photos I have here is of the gondola ride back down later. It’s stunning to me the height at which you descend. I have no idea how high up it is but let’s just say I’m thrilled that it was in a glassed in gondola and not just open to the air. It’s frighteningly high.

Once at the top I chose to hike for a good chunk of the way back down. It’s not surprisingly very pretty. And based on the rains that seem to come a bit every day, very verdant. There were also lovely flowers clinging to the rocky mountain trail. I don’t know the names of these but I loved the blue ones I have posted here.

There were many flowers along the way. The ones above and the one I have below were just a couple of the many along the trail back down. These are just a couple of my favs.

Choosing to take the cogwheel trail all the way to the top and then hike down is, trust me, a winning strategy. It’s a long way up! (i.e. aroudn 5900 feet) and to walk up would be interesting for sure but also a big undertaking. Keep in mind I’d just finished a bike tour. The hiking I factored in could be classified as ‘easy’ hiking.

Toward the very top of Rigi I encountered these cows just off the trail. Most of the cows you saw along the trail were in distance so these so close were pretty cool.

Many of the cows wear a big bell around their neck. I’m not sure why it’s not all of the cows but it definitely seems to be only some of the cows. Anyway, it makes a lotta noise! For people like me that don’t hear this often it’s kinda charming. But between the cow bells and the church bells ringing through the day in this neck of the woods you’d hard pressed not to have bells ringing in your head day and night. As enjoyable as it is as a tourist I gotta figure the locals just tune it out – but I’m sure it does serve a purpose for finding these critters up in the mountains.

I took a similar day hike up a different mountain on another day after this one and may post some of those photos and notes too but the full day on Rigi is one not to be missed if the weather allows it!

In my last post, I mentioned visiting the VinoRama. It reminded me a lot of some of my recent visits to regional enotecha in Piedmont. In this case, the VinoRama represented many wines from the Lavaux region.

If you’re just inclined to try wines of the region or are headed to Lausanne or Montreux it’s pretty easy to get to the VinoRama, you don’t even need a car. You can take the train from Geneva (or whereever) to Lausanne and then from there, grab a more regional train to Rivaz. From the train station there, it’s walkable.

There were hundreds of regional wines on display and available for purchase at the VinoRama, which I must say is a pretty great name for a wine showcase. You can also taste a set of wines as well. There are several choices on the tastings. I chose an option that included some bread and snacks with it. The tasting I got included 3 whites (Chasselas) and I think 3 reds as well. Though the guy helping me, Louis, may have sensed I was interested in something else and he brought out the Z Collection you see here. It was my favorite and this was the only one I bought. I wish I could tell you what is in it but my notes are sketchy and I couldn’t find too much of a description of it at the web site I dug up for it.

The VinoRama is set back into the hillside next to a pretty little waterfall. Once you get in, it’s really dark. I guess they’re going for a kind of ‘cave’ like setting. In addition to the wines, there is also a little movie theater that does a show about growing wine in the area. It’s done in a different language depending on what you want to see. I think they do it by request.

My tasting started with a set of 3 of Chasselas wines. I don’t know much about Chasselas wines. In fact, this recent visit to Switzerland may have been the first time I can recall them. Who knows, years ago I was in Switzerland and maybe had some, I don’t remember. These three were good but my memory is that the 2nd one in the photo here was more to my liking. The wines are definitely minearly but more round in texture. I’d try them again if I can find them back home.

If you like hiking, and you like wine, you’d be hard pressed not to like to spend a little time trekking through Lavaux in Switzerland.

I can’t quite recall how I heard about this area but considering I was going to be in Geneva over a couple weekends, I put it on my agenda once I read about it. It’s a beautiful area of terraced vineyards above Lake Geneva.

First of all I had no idea that Switzerland even did wines (though I should have probably figured that it did) and second of all that they would do something else besides white wines in this region. Live and learn. As to whites, they do a lot of Chasselas but they also do a fair bit of Gamay and Pinot Noir.

I chose to stay in the little town of Grandvaux and it turned out to be a fine base. Directly from my stay I could connect up with a walking route that took me through the vineyards. While it may look like it’s just a walk in the park it’s not quite as trivial to go up and down some of the slopes as it might look from the photo here. For the most part you can easily follow routes that are paved like a city hiking trail but there are some places you go up and down where the grade (according to the signs) is upwards of 25%. Trust me, you will use all the muscles in your legs as you go up and down. But the views are spectacular, you can stop in little towns along the way and just do as much as you want.

I’d been given a tip to make my way to Vevey. As you can see in the map below that I got from the B&B owner, Grandvaux is on the far left of the map and Vevey is on the far right. A pretty good hike. As it turns out, Saturdays are market days in Vevey and they have a wine tasting done at the market during the summer at least. I was told that it showcased a different producer each week. So, that’s where I headed.

Now turns out that last section to Vevey is not quite as nicely hikable, and because the wine tasting ends on the dot at 1pm I dropped down the hill to take a local train over to Vevey. I got to Vevey with time to spare and really enjoyed the tasting of a couple of wine from nearby Yvorne. They had both a Chasselas and a Pinot Noir. Both were good.

With the market going on at the same time, I was able to find some tasty pizza to have with my little bit of white and red wine. Hit the spot after the walk over.

Later in the afternoon, I started backtracking and ended up at the “Vinorama”. See the other red highlighted box in the map. More on the Vinorama in another post.

So you’ve come to Geneva and need to get around. Maybe these few tips will help some similarly lost soul when they first arrive here from the US and aren’t used to taking public transport.

Arrival

Before you leave the arrival area where you get your baggage, pick up a pass good for 80 minutes. It’s free, but not once you leave the arrival area. Once you get out into the regular part of the airport, a ticket will cost you something like CHF 3.50 to get a one-way 2nd class ticket that’s good for an hour – which is all you need to get to the main train station in the city.

Once you hit your hotel – if you’re staying at one – ask them for the go-anywhere pass that is given to visitors. If you’re staying like I am – in a rental, it’s not quite so nice. You have to go buy one. In that case, go read this and decide which kind of pass you need.

Routine Use

While you’ll find the passes are rarely checked (so far in a week nobody has asked to see my pass) you can be fined. From what I’ve read, it’s CHF 80 if you pay immediately, or CHF 120 if you are only able to pay later. Sounds like a real hassle you don’t want to deal with. Get the pass from your hotel or buy one.

I found the info desk at the main train station very useful for pointing me in the right direction – and giving me a local transit map. That was enough to get me pointed to the right stops for the routes I was after. Even if you just happen by a tram/bus stop, they’ll always tell you what routes will stop there. And timing. Some have electronic displays that show how many more minutes before your bus/tram arrives.

The thing that I’ve found pretty amazing is how often the tram or bus I need comes by. I may have waited 15 minutes once but more often than not it’s a few minutes. And many times I’ve been lucky and just walked up to find the tram/bus arriving. Also in many cases you can take one of several different buses to get you to the same place. For example, in the morning for me to go to the office, from the location in the photo here I can take the 6, the 10 or the 19. They all go by the office.

Leaving

Well I haven’t left yet but I’m pretty sure it’s not that hard. From the main train station you can take the Geneve Aeroport train. There’s one going all the time – and it’s still in zone 10.

When I went to Grandvaux it was similarly easy though I did need to buy a ticket because my pass was only good for zone 10 of Geneva. You can arrange to get a train to any of the little towns along the lake – at least the north side of the lake all the way over to Montreux.

I’ve now been in Geneva for a week. I came here for a two week stint following my trip to Italy. This visit is less about vacationing and more about kinda being back into the work routine – albeit from a distant location.

As the crow flies, this is actually not all that far from my Piedmont, Italy stays. As Lufthansa flies, you have to first go to Munich and then fly back. Strange, but that’s what I was able to arrange.

We have an office here in Geneva and I am simply working out of this office for a couple weeks. The primary motivation aside from the interest in seeing one of our European offices was to see some of the area nearby on the weekends. The 7 hour time difference makes the weekdays a bit of a challenge, particularly if meetings back home are in the afternoon there. That means they are at night here.

I’m doing a short term rental rather than a hotel. I have a private room with bathroom in an apartment a couple of stops from the main Geneva train station. The picture below was taken from the patio just off the shared dining room. Nice.

The Geneva water spout gives some sense of where the center of everything is. It’s not too far away. But then, with public transit being what it is here in Geneva, you can get anywhere pretty easily.

As cities go, Geneva isn’t all that big. I think someone told me it was just over 200K people. As you can see from the photo, there aren’t many big tall buildings in the city either. I was told that is by design (and probably ordinance though I’m not 100% sure of that one).

Despite being as small as it is, the city is extraordinarily expensive. In fact, by what I understand, it’s among the most expensive cities in the world. Even the most basic of lunches with something to drink are over CHF 20 which would put it over $22. Generally I’ve found food to be on the order of double what it would cost in the US. Have dinner in a decent place and it’ll be over CHF 50.

I’ve had a mix of weather since getting here. The weekend I arrived it was cool and on again off again rain. Today, a week later it’s pretty similar. In the mean time during the week it was very nice. Sunny and drier. I’ve been surprised at how humid it’s been here. And with little if any air conditioning, it can sometimes be stifling inside buildings. Woe is you if you end up stuck inside a restaurant instead of out on their terrace. By comparison I guess we’re used to frigid indoor temps in the summer.

You can see in the photo below how nice the weather was during the week. This photo too was taken from the patio at my apt rental. If you look close, that’s not a white cloud but is instead the snow capped peak of Mont Blanc. At least that’s what I’m told by the owner of this place.