Be Positive During Quarantine

Places I don’t mind to be at during this lock down: the first one on the list is Obidos, Portugal

Since we are staying at home in this special time, I’ve found myself have more time praying and reading. I have also more day dreaming, looking through travel photos to remember the places where I don’t mind to be isolated for a while. The first one comes to mind is Obidos, Portugal.

A small town an hour north of Lisbon, Obidos is a jewel sitting on atop a hill, enclosed by 45-ft tall walls which were constructed in 14th century. The terracotta roofing and yellow and blue accented white-paint houses are the signature charm of the town. It was a wedding gift from King Dinis to his bride Isabel in 1282. What a gift! He scored high on the romantic side!

Obidos is pretty yet very touristy, ideally to visit in the morning or evening to avoid crowds. We did in the morning with the town almost all to ourselves.

It is impossible to get lost in Obidos, from the city gate to the castle (Pousada), the main road is pretty straightforward, lots of shops and restaurants along the way. The churches of St. Mary (left) and St. Peter (right) are right in the middle of the attraction.

We saw stairs access to the walls at the beginning of main road near the city gate as well as at the end of the road by the castle. The walls and the views were also the main attractions of the town in my opinion. Lots of photo opportunities if you like taking pictures, both looking inside and outside, along the walls. Since I am afraid of height, it took me a while to walk up to and around the 45-ft tall walls, but the views were totally worth the scare.

It was orange season in the middle of February. There were different kinds of citrus all over the town, we saw trees of lemon, orange and mandarin. When gentle breeze mixed citrus scent filled the air, we felt like carrying a bouquet walking in citrus forest. This sensation reminded me a similar experience in another European city, Seville in southern Spain. We were there in the early spring, in March 2013, another orange season. Seville is also famed for orange trees and fruits, and everything else orange, such as orange marmalade and orange perfume. Lucky for me, I LOVE oranges!!

If you like shopping, there are shops and stores dotted along the street, happy to assist tourists. We took home three unique gifts of Portugal: cork tray, blue tiles and cans of cod fish (Bacalhau). We got the cork tray from Lisbon, the blue tiles from Coimbra. One of the well-known can fish company is Comur Conserveira de Portugal.

We decided to pick a different route back to the gate from the castle. A smaller path away from the main street, closer to the walls. It turned out to be an even better choice. It was quieter, with lesser crowd. Each corner we turned , we were welcomed with tranquility and beauty.

I hope you agree with me that Obidos is a better choice for lock down. At least you don’t mind to be alone here for a few hours.

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!