Switzerland (V): Transportation Hub Zurich

Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland, the last stop of our Swiss travel. At the first glance, Zurich seemed less personal than Bern, yet a beautiful city nevertheless.

You can’t miss this fun, gigantic flying “Guardian Angel” at Zurich train station. It was installed in 1997 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Swiss rail system.

Busy Zurich Train Station

Crowded and busy, Zurich didn’t feel as intimate as Bern. But as soon as we left the station and went on small cobble streets, Zurich was quite attractive.

Zurich is bike friendly.

The restaurants and cafes fill the alleyways.

Our hotel was by the Limmat River, in the early morning Zurich was quite lovely before the hustle and bustle filled the scene.

We visited the Grossmunster, the big cathedral of Neo-Gothic style. Her double domes have become the symbols of Zurich.

Rathausbrucke Bridge is a favorite spot for Instagram photos 🙂

You can read about the Swiss Reformation and the key role Ulrich Zwingli played in that era, and check out the 1531 Zurich Bible there.

Another church, Fraumunster, is on the other side of Limmat River. People come to see Chagall’s (1887-1985) stained-glass windows.

One thing we noticed in Switzerland: Swiss people really LOVE their flag, not only inside the cities, but at the Alps and in the mountain towns. We fly ours on July 4th, but here it seems everyday a National Day.

Another amazing thing in Switzerland is the spring water: the water from public fountains is not only drinkable but DELICIOUS. We didn’t need to spend a CHF on water in Switzerland.

Water fountain in Gimmerwald at the Swiss alps

This water fountain in Zurich had a smaller water outlet at the right corner, for water bottle! How thoughtful!

While at Switzerland we made sure to have their delicious cheese fondue. Here is a recipe I tried after came back. It tastes pretty authentic, just like the one we had in Interlaken. Enjoy!

If you are a shopper like me, you can easily stay for hours inside the Zurich train station. Anything you can think of, want or need, you can find it in the multi-floor station.

Make sure to pick some Swiss chocolate home! Our favorite is Laderach, yummy!

Last breakfast at the hotel before heading out to the airport to fly back home.

Another tip: if you travel light like us, with just a carry-on, you really don’t need to take a taxi to the airport. It is about 10 minute train ride from Zurich downtown to the airport, for a few CHFs the train will drop you at the lower level of the airport, all you need to do is to get to the top floor to check in your flight! We were totally amazed by the efficiency of the Swiss train system! And they are always on time!!

This concludes our Switzerland trip! Thank you so much for stopping by and reading my travel blog! Stay tuned for Germany, Austria and Hungary.

Switzerland (IV): Swiss Capital Bern

It is true that people come to Switzerland for her great outdoors, to places like Lake Lucerne (Luzern) and the Berner Oberland, the beauty of Swiss Alps is out of this world! With that said, if you have extra time, Swiss cities also have a lot to offer. We visited a few cities in Switzerland, such as Luzern, Zurich and Interlaken, all of us agree that Bern is the dearest.

An hour ride from Interlaken, the train dropped us right in the old town of Bern. And the charm of the city was felt immediately the moment we stepped out of the train station.

Colorful 16th-century fountains are scattered around the city, 11 in total, prominently placed at the center of the road. They are the trademark of the city, adding vibrant colors and fun to otherwise monotone buildings.

The Parliament is a definite must visit. See the statues in the above shot: the women on the left, under 1291, stands for Freedom; the woman on the right, under 1848, represents Peace.

Both years of 1291 and 1848 are significant in the Swiss history. And city of Bern has been the Swiss capital since 1848.

The View over the Aare River from the Terraces behind the Parliament

Pass the passageway at the right of the Parliament building to the Terraces in the back, we were welcomed with great views!

The beautiful blue color of the Aare River is from the melting glacier water of the nearby mountains Eiger, Momch and Junfrau. We were told that in a clear day you could see the alps in the distance on the Terraces.

View of the Parliament Building from Kirchenfeld Bridge, across the Aare River.

We followed the Rick Steves’ travel guide “Heart of Bern Walk”. We basically stay on this long road after making a left turn across Bahnhofplatz out of train station. What confused us was the name of the road–this street changed names four times! From Spitalgasse to Marktgasse, to Kramgasse, finally to Nydegg near the Bear Park where the Walk ended.

We only turned right, toward the Aare River, off the main road three times to see the Parliament, the Cathedral and the Einstein Museum.

Bern Cathedral is a 15th century Catholic-turned-into-Protestant church, with a mighty 330-foot tower, the tallest in Switzerland.

See the Cathedral tower on the right shot.

Can you find the bear on this shot? Hint: He was trying to catch a fish 🙂

Bear is the symbol of the city. You can spot this local mascot in many places in Bern, it is even on the coat of arms of Bern.

We found a live one soundly sleeping in the wood by the Aare River in the Bear Park. He looked content and happy to me.

When you see a Casino in Bern, don’t automatically think of gambling. It is the home of Bern’s Symphony Orchestra! 🙂

The building on the right side of Kirchenfeld Bridge is Bern’s History Museum complex, which devotes an entire second floor to Albert Einstein.

One of the highlights of our visit was the History Museum, covered by the Swiss Travel Pass, on the other side of the Aare River. The museum’s second floor was all about Albert Einstein.

We spent a big part of the afternoon learning about Einstein, one of the smartest men walked on Earth. He lived in Bern from 1901 to 1909, it was his work during this period, the Relativity Theory, won him the Nobel Prize.

At the Bear Park, we hopped on the bus #12, and arrived at another museum, Paul Klee Center, 15 minutes later.

This cool wavy building complex was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. Another museum we visited by the same architect was Pompidou in Paris.

Paul Klee is a Swiss native, a world-renowned artist (1879-1940). The Center houses his artwork as well as his art collections.

To be honest, the buildings were more interesting than his art work.

If you have Swiss Travel Pass, the museum is free, otherwise 20 CHF!

Switzerland (III) Explore Swiss Alps: the Golden Pass, Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen Valley Walk

After Lucerne (or Luzern) , we took the Golden Pass train to Interlaken, which served as our base for exploring Swiss Alps in the Bernese Oberland area.

There are three segments of the Golden Pass, our journey only run the first one, from Lucerne to Interlaken Ost.

The train came with semi-panoramic windows, and the ride lasted two hours.

Make sure to sit on the right side of the train for better views.

We chose Interlaken instead of the car-free villages up the mountains, such as Murren, Wengen and Gimmelwald, for the reasons listed below:

The views outside of our hotel in Interlaken
  • There were more hotel choices
  • More choices for restaurants
  • More evening activities in the town
  • And easier access to the nearby city, Bern
Evening walk in Interlaken

If you have three days visiting Bernese Oberland, save your best day to Schilthorn or Jungfrau, give the cloudy day to Lauterbrunnen valley. This pleasant and easy walk along the valley floor is weather-proof.

There is a main road, also a paved lane (which we took) paralleling the river; also small bridges to let you cross.

In mid-May, the valley was covered with wild flowers, especially yellow dandelions. The cows were happily munching and mooing, obviously they liked the flowers too! 🙂

There are totally 72 waterfalls in the 3-mile long valley.

However, most of the waterfalls start strong, only run out of steam half way, turn into mist in the midair, never get a chance to reach the deep valley floor. Here are some that actually touch the ground.

The most powerful waterfalls in the valley is Trummelbach Falls, about half way of the walk. This was the only attraction in the entire Switzerland trip NOT covered by the Swiss Travel Pass (11 CHF).

We rode an elevator up through the mountains, then climbed up many stairs to see the upper falls. The mighty melt from Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau cut through the mountain, in a speed up to 5200 gallons a second!!

There are also cafe and small shops along the valley, you can have snacks and drinks, like cookies and beer, by the waterfalls.

And you can quit anywhere along the walk, just hop on the Postbus for a short ride back to Lauterbrunnen.

Switzerland (II) Exploring Swiss Alps: Snow-Capped Schilthorn and Heavenly Gimmelwald

If you only have three days in Switzerland, please choose the rugged Bernese Oberland as your destination. If you only has one day in the Bernese Oberland, make it to the Schilthorn.

However, you need a VERY clear day to fully enjoy the region, to appreciate the magnificent mountain views.

There are a couple of ways to reach Schilthorn, below were was our route:

  • Train from Interlaken (our home base) to Lauterbrunnen
  • Change to cable car up to Grutschalp
  • Switch to train to Murren
  • Take cable car again to Schilthorn
  • From Schilthorn, take cable car down to Birg for the Thrill Walk
  • Then cable car further down to Gimmelwald, the best village in Switzerland!
  • Cable car down to Stechelberg
  • Bus back to Lauterbrunnen
Train ride to Lauterbrunnen

We were blessed with a sunny day with clear and blue sky. The train ride from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen set a tone for the day.

This is the view from the cable car — on the way up to Grutschalp from Lauterbrunnen. From Grutschalp, we then took a train to Murren. The train ride was synchronized with the arrival of the cable car. As a matter of fact, almost all rides of this round trip were synchronized.

Murren, a car-free village, faces the valley.

To reach the cable car station to Schilthorn, we walked across the town, it was about 10 minute walk. However we just lingered and wondered around and totally forgot about time.

Would this happen to you, no need to panic. The cable cars up to Schilthorn operate twice per hour, simply wait for the next lift.

There are also great hiking trails starting from Murren. Looking down Lauterbrunnen valley from Murren, it was mesmerizing!

The last leg of cable-car ride to Schilthorn!

We made it!! All the way to top, 2970-meter high!

The Skyline View Platform offered the panoramic views of Swiss apls, there were information boards to help identify the surrounding peaks.

The most striking three peaks were side by side–Elger, Monch and Jungfrau. You could catch all three in one shot, like the one on the right.

If you are hungry, there is a 360 revolving restaurant, Piz Gloria, up at the summit. The 1969 James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was filmed there, so EVERY dish (and buffet) was Bond themed. The 007 logo was even stamped on our burger bun!

Thrill Walk at Birg

After lunch, we took a cable car descend to Birg for the famous Thrill Walk.

The 600-foot-long Thrill Walk was not for everyone. It began with metal cat-walk by the cliff side, then a tightrope bridge. If those were not scary enough, you could try to walk on the glass flooring or to crawl through a chain tube staring at the valley far below!

Look at the drifting clouds. By the time we finished the Thrill Walk, the clouds completely fogged up the surrounding mountains. We couldn’t see the peaks even through we knew they were right in front of us.

Gimmerwald is a village with about 120 residents. We got off on our way descending and spent the rest of the afternoon to explore this little heaven on Earth.

Although Gimmelwald was tiny, its beauty was shining through every winding path and at every direction/corner of the town.

The magic of Gimmelwald could let you put aside all the nuisances of life, switch your attention to the loveliness of the day. Yes, life is beautiful.

So don’t waste your time on the trivial things, enjoy life!

Switzerland (I): Lucerne (Luzern), Lake Lucerne and Mount Rigi

I had been dreaming about visiting Swiss alps for years, finally we set foot on the Swiss soil this past month. It was even prettier than I had imagined!

Lake Lucrerne from the Rigi Kulm Summit!

Our day in Lucerne (or Luzern) was divided into three parts: the city walk, Lake Lucerne boat ride and Rigi Mountain.

Lucerne is Switzerland’s tourism capital, it is very pretty and walkable. We had covered lot of ground in the city in two hours, starting our walk from Lucerne Bahnhofplatz, the central train station.

The followings were our favorite attractions in the city:

  • Bahnhofplatz
  • Chapel Bridge
  • Jesuit Church
  • Lucerne’s Lakefront around St. Peter’s Chapel
  • Lion Monument
  • Bourbaki Panorama

The boat dock for Lake Lucerne was conveniently located by the train station. Our destination was Weggis (#3 on the map), from there we would take a cable car up Rigi mountain (#4). The boat cruised about an hour, perfect time for a lunch break.

It turned out that the cable car to Rigi summit didn’t run for the day because of scheduled maintenance.

So we hopped back to the boat to the next stop, Vitznau.

From Vitznau a cogwheel train, the oldest one in Europe (since 1870), chak chak us up to the summit, Rigi Klum.

The view of ascending was magnificent!! Make sure to sit on the left of the train for the best views!

We had a panoramic birdeye view of Lake Lucerne as shown in the beginning of this post. You had to have camera ready as it passed by very quickly.

Although Mt. Rigi was only 5900 feet in altitude, it was still covered in snow in mid-May. And the temperature dropped from comfortable 55 F to near zero. To make it worse, the Sun was gone too!!

To our surprise, there at the summit of Rigi stood a giant basalt rock labeled “Mt. Emei”, a famous mountain in Southern China. How miss leading! 🙂 As it turns out that Mt. Rigi and Mt. Emei are sister mountains. This stone was shipped from China in 2015, weights 8 tons! And a similar stone from Rigi was shipped to Mt Emei a year earlier.

To save time, we didn’t take the return cruise, instead we rode another cogwheel train down to Arth-Goldau (left of Rigi Kulm on the map), then took a regular train back to Lucerne.

Tips: All the transportation and museums mentioned above and in the future posts of this trip were covered by Swiss Travel Pass. A great deal!

Napa Valley Sunrise to Sunset (II)

I asked our hotel Concierge at Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa for locations to see sunrise in Napa Valley, they recommended the Alston Park nearby.

The park was small, the trail about 1 mile or so. People were already there walking their dogs before sunrise. What a perfect location, thank you Marriott. The sunrise that morning was spectacular! 🙂

Unlike the first day, We didn’t take any tours. Instead we picked wineries of our like and tasted on our own.

Domaine Chandon in Yountville.

It was very early in the growing season in February. Only bright yellow wild mustard blooms were abundant in the valley.

Among all the wineries we tasted, Opus One was the most expensive tasting we have ever experienced. And there was only ONE glass of red wine to taste!

2013 Opus One ***** (This one they sell for $399/bottle! No kidding!!)

  • Cabernet Sauvignon 79%
  • Cabernet Franc 7%
  • Merlot 6%
  • Petit Verdot ^%
  • Malbec 2%

I had to say it was DELICIOUS! And the tasting area upstairs had a great view, it was like a giant panoramic painting!

In comparison, other tastings all of sudden seemed “reasonably” priced! 🙂 However for a more reasonable price tag, go to Sonoma county, which we did the next day. The wineries there were much cheaper and very lay back.

Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley was very romantic tasting room, and they had the best sparkling wines.

These were the wines in Domaine Carneros we tasted:

  • Blanc de Blancs ****
  • Brut Rose (Cuvee de la Pompadour) *****
  • Brut Rose Late Disgorged *****
  • Avant-Garde Pinot Noir ****
  • Estate Pinot Noir *****

Just outside of Domaine Carneros, we had beautiful sunsets to end the day!

†

Napa Valley Valentine’s Weekend (I)

Napa Valley should be on the list of any wine lovers. Summer and fall are the best seasons to visit for an obvious reason: there are grapes hanging on the vines and wine harvest should be fun to witness! With that said, I think any season is a good season for Napa. 🙂

Since we only had three days, we started from the northern tip of the valley: Calistoga–Sterling Vineyards and Castello di Amorosa on our first day.

Wine tasting was only part of the reason to visit Sterling Vineyards; the white building complex sit on top of the hill, the view of the valley from the winery is extraordinary! And the ride up to the tasting rooms itself was a great experience, too.

The following were the wines in our tasting:

  • 2016 Winemaker’s White Blend ***
  • 2015 Oak Knoll Chardonnay ***
  • 2015 Sangiovese ***
  • 2014 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ****
  • 2015 Petite Sirah ****
  • and California Malvasia Bianca *****

The entire Sterling Vineyards is best viewed from the Castello di Amorosa, and vice versa.

The Castello di Amorosa, the Castle of Love, is my #1 priority among Napa Valley wineries. The first time I heard about this castle was on Culture Trip, it was listed as one of the 12 most beautiful castles in America.

This Castle of Love has the best tour and tasting experience during our weekend in Napa. A fourth generation winemaker, Dario Sattui, spent more than 14 years to build this 13th century Tuscan-style castle to honor his Italian heritage and to share his deep love for medieval architecture.

Don’t let the look fool you, the castle was newly opened in 2007. There are 107 rooms, and no two rooms alike, wine caves, even a medieval armory and torture chamber, Castello has it all.

All the building materials were 700-800 year-old and hand-made, shipped from Italy! Talking about authenticity! Walking inside the castle we felt like traveling through time to Tuscany, Italy…

These were the wines we tasted at the castle:

  • 2017 Ferrington Vineyard Gewurztraminer ***
  • 2017 Simpatica Riesling/Moscato Blend ****
  • 2016 Bien Nacido Vineyard chardonnay ***
  • 2016 Pinot Noir Terra de Promissio *****
  • 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ****
  • 2013 Napa Valley Il Brigante Red Blend ***
  • 2017 Anderson Valley Late Harvest Gewurztraminer *****