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 *****

Assateague Island Wild Horse Quest

As horse fans we have to go and see the horses when we find out that wild horses are freely roaming in Assateague Island National Seashore.

The Assateague Island is located off the eastern coast, 15 minutes south of Ocean City. According to TripAdvisor, wild horses can easily be spotted driving inside the Assateague Island National Seashore. So we decided to pay a visit during our recent trip to Ocean City.

It was a beautiful morning, and we were there about 6:30. The gate was open, however no one there to collect fee yet. Since the Visitor Center opens at 9 am, we decided to rely on the Google map.

We spotted no horses driving through the entire length of Bayberry Dr. However, here and there, we detected horse drops, and they were fresh, which was quite encouraging.

South Ocean Beach

This beach is wide open, and very quiet. Too early for a Friday morning. The sand along the beach is incredible in height, almost like dunes to me.

Next we drove around near the Old Ferry Landing.

No horses there either. No ones except the two love birds to the right of the house.

Back to the road, this time we turned left onto Bayside Dr. The mosquitoes and black flies were quite abundant, ready to feast on us to break the fast.

Marsh Nature trail looked inviting, it was raised boardwalk overlooking the bay. Since we couldn’t find horses, might as well enjoy the trail. And we did. This trail itself had made the trip worthwhile.

While we were at the trail, we asked bypassers whether they caught sight of any horses, and one of the campers saw a few at his camp site.

Off to the campground we went. There were three of them! On the first impression they were just like domestic horses, shining fur coat, well-groomed mane. There was nothing “wild” about them.

They seemed quite used to people, nibbling around the tent and the rest area; some even tried to get food from the campers.

It was neat to watch them interact with people. A campground should be the first location to seek for wild horses! Happy and content, we headed back to Ocean City, not knowing the best was yet to come.

As we were pulling out to exit the park, we encountered two more horses. One was wandering at the PARKING LOT; the other literally came to us– crossing the road, we stopped our car to let her pass.

Obviously she owned the road!

It was a really fun day!

So you don’t need to get up super early to see horses, they have the same schedule as we humans. They stroll out during breakfast time, to parking lots and campgrounds.

A word of caution: keep distance, don’t get too close to them. They are wild horses after all.