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Trip Report Long Train Runnin' through the Alps (Switzerland 2016)

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Travelers: Myself (49 y.o. male) and my sister (50 y.o.). I’ve made several European trips with various family members, but this time, it was just myself and my sister. We wanted to go someplace that was (mostly) new to both of us, and that we could do entirely by public transportation. So, looking at the options, Switzerland stood out as the best candidate, and we built a three weekend, two week trip around using the Swiss Rail Pass. Besides doing a cross section of the country, my sister, who has really gotten into genealogy, wanted to at least pass through the Toggenburg Valley, where some of our ancestors came from.

Photos: Let’s try this link (hope I did it right): http://tinyurl.com/jzxg6pv

Transportation:

Air: We live equidistant from DFW and OKC. Since a non-stop flight to Switzerland wasn’t possible from either airport, and OKC is a lot easier to deal with, we opted to fly on Delta, OKC-ATL-ZRH. Initially, I booked this in late August for coach at $1700/each, but, when I downloaded the Delta app to my phone, it told me how much it would cost to upgrade to First/Business Class, and that figure dropped several times. When it got down to $2900, we decided to splurge and go First Class for the first time.

Ground: We opted for the 15-consecutive day Swiss Pass, 1st Class, at CH₣ 704. This also gave us admission to a number of museums, passage on boats, pretty much all forms of local public transportation, the only exception being some high mountain lifts (where the discount was 50%) and the Jungfraujoch train (where we got a 25% discount from Wengen). Armed with my I-Phone and the SBB app, all I needed to do was find a train (or boat, bus, or cable car) connection that I liked, and we were free to hop on without having to stop to buy tickets.

Lodging:

In Wengen, we spent a week in a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment at Chalet Mittaghorn (http://www.vrbo.com/2161301ha) for about $900. I found the listing for this apartment on VRBO, and was a little concerned that it had no reviews, but it seemed that almost all apartments in this ski resort were managed by one agency, Interhome. I did find a review of another apartment in Wengen that had good things to say, and after doing some additional research on this building (which was built before the turn of the 20th Century as a hotel, but fell on hard times when the railroad was built about 800 meters up the hill, and was in a dilapidated state of repair until a major renovation in 2007), I felt comfortable enough to go ahead and pull the trigger. The apartment was exactly as represented, and I would not hesitate to recommend rentals in Wengen from this agency. The one drawback to this place is the distance (and elevation change) to the railroad station and shopping district. It’s a good 10-12 minute hike for me once acclimated, and would be an issue for someone with mobility problems. However, its perch on the edge of the shelf of the valley is unobstructed, unlike virtually every other apartment in Wengen, and if a bit of climbing is a deal breaker, you should not be booking a trip to the Berner Oberland.

In the Lake Geneva region, after looking at a lot of options, and not finding anything that represented good value for money, I finally stumbled upon the Auberge de la Gare (http://www.aubergegrandvaux.ch/?lang=en), at Grandvaux, just outside of Lausanne. The Auberge is primarily a restaurant (open Tuesday through Saturday), but has five rooms (four in the main building, and a fifth bungalow on its own terrace). It is situated less than 100 yards from the Grandvaux train station, a little bit above Grandvaux village. The owners, Phillippe and Raymonde Delessert, are very friendly and make you feel right at home. We were a little bit unlucky in that, although our schedule put us in the area for 3 nights, the restaurant at the Auberge was only open on our first night–it was an excellent meal in a very laid back atmosphere. When we came down for dinner a little after 6:30, the family and staff were still eating, and watching a Euro 2016 game in the bar. They set a table up for us, and we enjoyed the game and an excellent meal. The rooms were very nice, and the price was fantastic. With the Swiss Pass, we were a short train ride from anywhere on the lake, so it was also extremely convenient. While the passing trains are noticeable, the noise they generate is more like a passing truck, rather than the rumble of freight trains that most Americans would imagine from location next to a railroad track. I got one of the four rooms in the main building, and my sister got the bungalow. This place was fantastic and I would definitely stay here again.

In Luzern, we opted for location over comfort and booked a room overlooking the Chapel Bridge at Hotel des Alpes (http://www.desalpes-luzern.ch/). The rooms at this hotel are small, and somewhat spartan, but not shabby or undesirable. The reason people stay here is the location is fabulous, and the room rates are (by local standards) not bad. If you want a room with a spectacular view and the best location for exploring the old town portion of Luzern, at a reasonable price, this place is a fine choice. If you are looking for space or luxury, you will need to spend a lot more in this town to get it. As long as you know what you are signing up for, Hotel des Alpes can be a fine selection.

In St. Gallen, we stayed at Hotel Dom (http://www.hoteldom.ch/web/home/). This hotel is centrally located (around the corner from the cathedral, and a 10 minute walk from the train station), and has an ultra-modern interior. The two days that we spent in St. Gallen were rather warm, and this hotel does not have air conditioning. My sister’s room (which was smaller, but had two windows) seemed to stay rather cooler than my room (which had a bay window, but only one window that opened, and then only to a limited extent). If you stay here when it’s warm, that’s something you might want to consider. My sister and I did not share a room here, as we did at a couple of places, because the bathrooms aren’t that private–they have sliding glass (opaque) doors, with holes for your hands to open them. So, if you are traveling with someone, you might also want to factor that in. But, the single room rates were cheap enough that we opted for two rooms, and I thought this place provided good value, overall.

Zurich hotels are insanely expensive, and that’s one reason why we only opted for one night in the country’s largest city. We did manage to find a room with two beds (separate, and not pushed together as is the Swiss custom) at Hotel Alexander (http://www.hotel-alexander.ch/en.html). The room was tiny (probably smaller than the one at Hotel des Alpes in Luzern), but the way it was laid out made the most of the space. Our room overlooked Niederdorfstrasse, which, on Sunday morning, looked a lot like Bourbon Street in New Orleans after a typical Saturday night, but we had no problems with noise. The location is great, only a 7 minute walk from the train station, and in the heart of the old town.


Phones: Both my sister and I have I-Phones through Sprint. Rather than activating an international plan through Sprint, we opted to have our phones unlocked and purchased pre-paid SIM cards in Switzerland. We had planned to purchase these from Swisscom, but the two places we checked on arrival were sold out of I-Phone SIMS from Swisscom, so we purchased a SIM card from Sunrise on recommendation of the staff at the cell phone store in the Luzern Bahnhoff mall. We had no coverage problems, and were able to use the internet extensively for travel planning on the fly, which is really the way to go if you want to maximize the value of the Swiss Travel Pass.

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    Daily Log:

    June 9 (Th): My initial plan was simply to drive to the airport on our departure date–it’s only 2 hours, and all freeway. However, rather than get up in the wee hours of the morning and start off a very long day short of sleep, we opted to go up to OKC the night before and stay at a Double Tree near the airport. It was the right move.

    June 10(F): I was really looking forward to the flight, for a change, because this was going to be my first time to fly anything but coach. The flight from OKC to ATL was pretty unremarkable–the First Class seats were much roomier than coach, but for a 2 hour flight, it wasn’t that important. What was nice was that when we got to Atlanta for a four hour layover, we had access to the Delta Sky Club. I was a little disappointed in the food (I think there were better options in the public areas of the International Terminal), it was certainly a comfortable place to ride out a layover. The big attraction was on the next leg, ATL to ZRK, where we would get to use one version of lie flat seating. While it wasn’t exactly comfortable compared to a good bed, it was a heck of a lot better than being crammed into a coach seat for 9 hours.

    The lie flat seating on the 767-300 draws some criticism because when the seat is put into the prone position, your feet end up lodged in a small space that is under the table and control console for the person sitting in front of you (for this reasons, the seats are staggered, and some “window” seats actually aren’t up against the window). I checked out some You Tube videos and reviews of this seating and got some helpful hints like taking off my shoes before going into lie flat mode, and ordering the “dine and rest option,” where my entree and desert were brought out together (and quickly), so as to give me a head start on resting after the meal–with a nine hour flight, you eat up a couple of hours getting off the ground and getting the meal served, then they start getting ready for breakfast service about 90 minutes before landing, which only leaves you about six hours to try to sleep. While I probably only got four hours of sleep, that’s four more than I’ve ever gotten in coach on a transatlantic flight. I thought it was worth the money considering the significant travel we had to do on our first day to get to our destination.

    June 11(Sa): Our flight from ATL was 40 minutes late taking off (20 minutes were attributable to a computer glitch that forced them to do weight and balance by hand, and 20 were due to having to wait for traffic in the air lanes to subside in order to permit us to take off). So, instead of arriving at 8:25, we touched down at 9:01 a.m. I had planned to purchase SIM cards for our I-Phones at the Zurich airport, but, after clearing customs and retrieving our bags, when we went to the Swisscom store, they told us they were sold out of data cards for I-Phones. There was another store selling other brands, but with a long wait. Wanting to get to Wengen before the grocery stores closed, but also wanting to take the train through Luzern instead of Bern, so that we could go through the Brunig pass, we decided to just get on the next train for Luzern.

    After having made a restroom stop, cleared customs, and retrieved our bags, it was 9:39 when we got turned away at the phone store, and the next train for Luzern was leaving at 9:47–if we missed that one, because of the connetion to Interlaken, it would delay us an hour getting to Wengen (I knew this from having checked out the possibilities on the SBB mobile app, which I didn’t have access to at the moment, but was still an invaluable tool in this instance, simply from memory). So, we got out our passports, and the print at home pass, found the Luzern train on the departures board, made our way on board at 9:44, and were on our way to Luzern. We found a first class car, and didn’t realize it was a silent car–and from reading about this, we knew that they meant silent–so we passed the first hour in silence, but that was actually fine given the circumstances.

    When we got to Luzern, we located a mobile phone store in the mall attached to the station. They, too, were sold out of Swisscom cards, but offered Sunrise cards, which they assured us had good coverage (and, as it turned out, they were right). Next was finding an ATM–as was the case when we arrived in France in 2011, my sister’s ATM (issued by her teacher’s credit union) didn’t work at the first ATM we tried, but this time we tried it at a different bank ATM (they had two types next to each other in the Luzern bahnhoff mall), and it worked in this one. Crisis averted, after about an hour in Luzern, we hopped on the next train bound for Interlaken Ost.

    I was glad we took this route as it had some nice scenery. I also wanted to take this because I had read about trips over the Brunig pass in the 19th century in a couple of books, including Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad. We arrived in Wengen just before 3, stopped at the Interhome office, then did some grocery shopping, before heading down to the apartment. In retrospect, I wish we had taken a taxi down–the walk down hill is challenging enough unburdened by luggage in dry weather, but with bags in the rain, it was a real drag. Live and learn. I hope someone benefits from my experience (that’s why I do a report). We watched England and Russia play soccer in the Euro tournament on TV in order to make sure that we stayed up to a suitable bed time, to get adjusted to the time change.

    June 12 (Su): The weather forecast was for rain–in fact, Switzerland was suffering from the same rainy wether that has plagued most of Europe, just not quite as bad. Knowing that, we made the decision to sleep in. As it turns out, that was a mistake, because the weather Sunday morning was clear, and would have allowed for something like a trip to the Jungfraujoch (but probably not a serious hike, given the jet lag). Still, we got under way around 11, and decided to go to Murren on the chance that the weather would hold, and we could go up the Schilthorh. Of course, it didn’t, and we ended up just going down to Stechelberg, then catching the bus to Trummelbach Falls. This was an interesting site, worth the CH₣ 11, but, again, given the fatigue, we cut this a little short (only making 8 of the 10 chutes).

    June 13 (Mo): Steady rain and clouds greeted us this morning, so no Jungfrau, Schilthorn, or high mountain walk. Instead, we took the train to Interlaken Ost, then took the boat to Brienz for a visit to the Ballenburg Open Air Museum. On the way to Interlaken, we had a nice chat with a family from Hawaii that was heading for Bern. The dreary weather made my photos on the lake a little less appealing than they might have been, but the boat trip was fine.

    We had what I would consider a little bit of an unusual experience with bus drivers. When we got off the boat at Brienz, we had to take a bus to the museum, and the SBB app said that it was Bus 151, direction Ballenburg east. There was a 151 bus parked at the bus stop, but it said Rossiplatz (or something like that) on the destination board. Figuring that this bus would go a few stops, then turn around and come back, I asked the driver if this bus would take us to the museum. He said no, and that we should wait at platform 2 for the museum bus (he was parked in platform 1), which we did. Of course, when the bus pulls up five minutes later, it’s the same bus, and same driver. OK, we chalked that up to a personal quirk, until later, when we finished our tour (having gone from East to West at Ballenburg), and were faced with the choice of waiting with no comfortable place to sit until 1:47, or getting on the east bound bus at 1:38, and simply making the round trip. We opted for the latter, but when we got to the East entrance, the driver told us we needed to get off the bus, even though we were going to Brienz. OK, we figure a new bus is coming. No, three minutes later, the same bus, with the same driver, pulls up, heading westbound. We made a point of getting back on an sitting in the exact same seats. The driver didn’t seem to notice. Must be some regulation we are not aware of about discouraging folks from taking up seats (the busses weren’t crowded) when not taking the direct route to their destination.

    As to the museum, it’s a good way to spend a drippy day. The museum is arranged geographically, with different buildings grouped according to the region they came from. We thought that the differences from region to region would be more noticeable, but they seemed pretty subtle to us. Still, it was interesting to see the kind of dark little rooms that our ancestors (sister is into genealogy and has found some Swiss ancestors) must have endured.

    After we returned to Wengen, we ate dinner at Hotel Barren, where we had a good meal, and a nice chat with the owner.

    June 14(Tu): Woke up to more rain, and a pretty bad forecast, so we decided that this was our day to go to Bern. This was the first time we saw any deviation from the usual incredible punctuality of Swiss public transport. Our connection from Wengen required us to make a five minute change in Lauterbrunned, then a four minute change in Spiez. We were a little concerned about the change at Spiez, but not so much about Interlaken since, by now, we were old hands at navigating the station at Interlaken Ost. Well, our train from Lauterbrunnen was about 3 minutes late, so we only had two minutes to make our connection, and ended up jogging up the ramp to get to the platform on time. However, when we got to Spiez, the connecting train was five minutes late. Since this was an international train (from Milan to Basel), I’m going to suspect that the Italian leg played a part in the delay, but I guess we’ll never know.

    When we got to Bern, it was still raining, but, after detouring to take some photos of the Parliament building, we went back to the main street through the old town and walked down the arcades, taking photos and checking out shops. By the time we got to the Zytglogg, the rain had stopped. We continued down to the bear pit, but, with the rain starting up again, we made our way back up the peninsula towards the station. Along the way, we saw the Hawaiian family that we had talked to on the train the day before.

    It’s sort of a running joke amongst us, but somewhere along the way on each trip to Europe, we like to sample what the locals have to offer for Tex-Mex. It’s not that we’re expecting good food (we’re just hoping for passable), but more the fact that you see these places popping up all over the world, and just wonder what is being passed off as Tex-Mex. Today, we ran across a place called “El Mexicano” on Spitalgasse, and couldn’t pass up the chance to see what they had to offer–I have a client that owns a Tex-Mex restaurant named “El Mejicano,” so there was no argument about stopping here for lunch. My sister had nachos and I had chilli. It wasn’t a bad effort by European standards.

    After the Tex-Mex, we had some nice gelato at a place nearby, down one of the passageways, before heading back over toward Parliament to take some pictures of that area while it wasn’t raining, before returning home. On the way back, we got off at Lauterbrunnen intent on taking some photos, mostly of the Staubachfalle, but, with the rain coming down once again, we decided that was about all the walking in the rain we were prepared to do for Lauterbrunnen photos. We had looked at several apartments here, and while I can see that some of those would have been handy from a transportation standpoint (the ones within a reasonable walk of the station), Lauterbrunnen just isn’t as nice as Wengen, and certainly doesn’t have as nice a view as we had from our apartment near the edge of the cliff in Wengen.

    After relaxing at home for a while, we decided that we wanted to go out to eat, and that we didn’t want to walk up the hill in the rain. So, we did what we had put off doing for a while, and called a taxi to take us to dinner. CH₣ 18 for a 3 minute trip might seem a little steep at first blush, but it was absolutely worth it, under the conditions. We also wanted to do this with a view toward establishing a bit of a relationship with the taxi operators (we used Wegmuller on the recommendation of some prior visitors) so that we would have no hiccups on our departure day, when we absolutely needed that assistance (with bags in tow). We had a very good meal at Pizzeria Da Sina (next to the Schoenegg Hotel), and again took the taxi back home.

    June 15(We): Finally, a break in the weather. In the morning, it was just a lack of rain, and higher cloud ceiling, but in the afternoon, we saw a few patches of sunshine. With a relatively promising forecast, we decided this was the day to tackle the Jungfraujoch. We headed up the hill to town just before 7 a.m., and purchased tickets–one way to KS (to give us some flexibility on the return trip) and round trip from there to the Jungfrauhjoch, for CH₣ 111 (50% discount to KS, and 25% discount from KS to the top with the Swiss Pass).

    Every time we had boarded the Wengeneralp Bahn trains at Lauterbrunnen or Wengen, we had been treated to an animation that showed something about passengers with reservations, and those without, at Kleine Scheidegg. When we got to KS, I finally understood what the animation meant–they had most of the area next to the train we were to change to set aside for passengers with seat reservations, and everyone without was shunted to the end. Well, not one person on our train had seat reservations, so it was all an exercise in futility and rather annoying. Nonetheless, we made it up fine, and dutifully got out at the two panoramic windows to take pictures.

    By the time we got to the Sphynx, it was snowing and visibility was limited, but we waited on some benches at the top platform long enough for things to clear up enough to provide some distant views–not quite clear enough for photography, but the naked eye could certainly see a lot. We then went down and went through the ice palace. By the time we got to the terrace where you can step out, it had stopped snowing, the clouds had lifted considerably, and there were even a few patches of blue sky visible. I got some nice pictures and felt relieved that we not had spent that much money only to look at clouds. So, we learned that, if you have to make a trip to the Jungfraujoch in less than optimal weather, patience is a virtue.

    We got back to KS around noon and had lunch at the grill attached to the station, enjoying the view and some sunshine. The trail from KS to Mannlichen was still closed, so we opted to take the train to Grindewald in order to get a glimpse of that valley, then took the gondola up to Mannlichen, where we had a snack, and admired the views. I attempted to walk up the “royal walk” to the high point, but, by the time I was within about 200 yards of the top, clouds rolled in and obscured all views. Figuring there was no point in wearing myself out further to look at clouds, I turned around and met my sister at the platform for the cable car down to Wengen. After grabbing some provisions in town, we headed home and called it a day.

    June 16(Th): The forecast for today was lousy, so, needing to find time to do some laundry, and also in need of a little rest, we decided that today would be a day to sleep in late and not do much of anything (other than laundry). However, while we didn’t go anywhere, an event ended up coming to our doorstep as today was the day that the dairy farmers took their cattle from the valley floor up to the high pastures above Wengen. Growing up the son of a Texas rancher, I know a little bit about moving cattle, and can see why all the local farmers do this at once, rather than piecemeal–it’s a major job to keep the cattle from straying down each an every path that they cross, and every driveway, sidewalk, and side street is roped off in order to keep the cattle on track, which is easy enough to do for hundreds of cattle on one day, but would be a major chore if it had to be done each time a single farmer was moving his dozen or two dozen cows. I had no advance notice this was going to happen (although everyone cutting their grass yesterday might have clued me in, and I certainly would have noticed the barricades and ropes, if I had seen them, but I suspect they were put up first thing this morning and not the night before), so the ringing of the bells around 7:30 a.m. awakened me. At first, I shot a few photos off the balcony, but after realizing what I was seeing, I got dressed and went down to take more photos at ground level. The one thing I did wrong was I didn’t think to take some video until most of the cattle had passed by. The cacophony caused by all the bells was as impressive as the visual image of hundreds of cows, most wearing large bells, being pushed up the hill by herders (some wearing traditional dress).

    After that excitement, my only activity was to make a walking loop south from the apartment in the direction of Wengernalp of about an hour in each direction. Then, after returning to the apartment, we finished laundry, and made fondue (OK, we purchased the prepared fondue mix from the Dorflade store–very tasty) while watching England and Wales play soccer at Euro 2016.

    June 17(Fr): With decent weather forecast for today, we decided to go to Schynige Platte. After having passed through the station at Wilderswill multiple times and laughed at the cardboard cutout figures pointing up to Schynige Platte, today we were finally going to take their advise. The ride up with alternating views between Interlaken and the lakes on one side, and the Lauterbrunnen and Grindewald valleys on the other, was great, although at 55 minutes, it does take a good little while sitting on some rather spartan bench seating. At the top, we did walk through the alpine gardens, and I ventured a little further down a few trails, but my sister’s gimpy knee kept her from doing any serious climbing, so we settled for seeing what was close at hand. We did have lunch at the restaurant, and got to hear a couple of alp horn players greeting each train load upon arrival at the top. We even got to take turns trying to play the alp horns ourselves (we’re both former band geeks–brass players at that–so this was right up our alley).

    The clouds were interspersed with sunshine, so between taking our time at lunch, and waiting for some cloud breaks to get some photo opportunities, it was 3:00 p.m. by the time we got back down to Wildswill. Although we contemplated going in to Interlaken and walking around to see a little bit of the town, with our impending departure from Wengen coming in the morning, we decided to head back to our base, and take care of some pre-departure chores. On the way back to Wengen, we ran into an Indian couple and an Indian guy who had Swiss Passes and were wanting to go up to the Jungfaujoch. I told them that I wasn’t sure, but I thought they were probably too late in the day to go all the way up. They were also a little bit put out to discover that the Swiss Pass only covered the trip as far us as Wengen. We saw the couple standing on the platform at Zweilutschinnen the next day on our way through–I hope they made it up then.

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    June 18(Sa): Today we left our apartment in Wengen for the final time, and headed to our next destination, Grandvaux on Lake Geneva, via the Golden Pass from Zweissman to Montreux. I had read about (and seen videos of) the VIP seats on the Zweissman to Montreux leg of the trip, and wanted to be sure to do that. I knew that these seats had to be reserved, and somewhere along the way, I read that reservations for these seats opened up about 90 days in advance, but after reading that, I couldn’t find that information again. So, I went to the Golden Pass web site (which is not particularly user friendly) several times over the winter, checking out the reservation process, and never seeing the seats that I wanted pop up until a little over 90 days before the day I was looking for, and then, with no fanfare or explanation, suddenly there was the seating chart for the car with the VIP seats. I selected two on the front row (there were no seats reserved at the time), paid the reservation fee (CH₣ 15/each), and received an email with my seat reservation for the 12:25 train from Zweissman, so, all we had to do was to make it to Zweissman by the appointed time.

    Although the punctuality of Swiss trains is amazing, it isn’t quite perfect. In particularly, we had a couple of close calls trying to make connections from the Berner Oberland Bahn to other trains at Interlaken Ost (the BOB sometimes ran 2 minutes late, and with five or six minute connection times, that was pretty close without bags in tow). So, we left Wengen an hour earlier than the itinerary suggested by the SBB app, which gave us an extra 20 minutes or so on the platforms at Interlaken Ost and Zweissman, which turned out well. It gave us a chance to be first on those trains, and to get our luggage situated. When we got on the train at Ost, we got in the regular first class car (rather than the silent car), expecting the usual one or two other occupants, but just before the train was to depart, a dozen or more young Russians clambered into the car. These kids knew what they were doing in not choosing the silent car–what a cacophony. It was funny to listen to them, and pick up the stray familiar town name. When they got off at Spiez, as we did, I wondered if we were going to see them the rest of the way, but, they got on another train.

    After an unhappy encounter with one of the vending machines at Zweissman, we got on the special Golden Pass train and took our seats at the front. It was a unique experience to get the engineers view, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has the chance. The only thing that marred our trip was that the weather was, once again, little bit on the rainy side, meaning that the view weren’t quite as spectacular as they might have otherwise been.

    After making connections in Montreux and Lausanne, we arrived at our next lodging, the Auberge de la Gare, in Grandvaux around 3 p.m. We opted to rest up in until dinner, and enjoyed watching Ireland and Hungary on ITV (the Auberge has great television selection, if that is important to you). The Auberge is primarily a restaurant, but they have five rooms, and we took two. We went down for dinner around 6:30, and, they were still getting set up for dinner, but seated us in the bar where we had a view of the TV (the family and staff were sitting around eating and watching the game, too). I’m no foodie, but I really enjoyed the meal here–high quality fare in a very laid back atmosphere. I would highly recommend it if you are in the area.

    June 19(Su): The plan today was to go to Lausanne, see the Olympic Museum, and then take the boat from Ouchy to Chateau Chillon. Things didn’t quite go according to plan. On Sunday, the Auberge serves breakfast a little bit later than normal, so we didn’t get an early start. I consulted the web site for the boat operator on Lake Geneva, CGN, and must say that they have one of the worst web sites that I’ve seen. When you use the mobile web site, you can’t switch languages because a stupid chat icon pops up where the language choices are located. Because of the late start, we didn’t go on the ferry I had intended, but I entered Ouchy as my origin, and Chillon as my destination, and got a ferry that was leaving Lausanne at 12:30 and arriving at Chillon just after 2, and that served a meal. Great, I thought. We toured the Olympic museum, made a leisurely stroll back to Ouchy, got on our boat, ordered our meal, and then we waited...and waited...and waited. The boat in question didn’t hug the north shore, like the one I had original, planned, it called at St. Gringolph and another port before Chillon, but even with those two stops, the meal service on the boat was so slow that we could not finish before Chillon. And, given the train schedule, the although we could have gotten off at Vevey, we would have waited nearly an hour for the next train to Montreux. So much for Chillon. The moral to this story: do NOT opt for the meal service on one of these cruises if you have any time constraints whatsoever.

    When the boat pulled up to the Montreux dock, we notice a couple of bands (as in brass bands) in uniforms. There were also instruments with the bags on our boat. When we got to Lausanne, we ended up at the train station with this group, and couldn’t resist asking them what was going on, and they said that there was a federal band competition in Montreux.

    After we returned back to the Auberge, we rested for a little while before walking some around the vineyards. By this time, all the vineyard shops were closed, except for one shop on the road into Grandvaux village, where they were offering wine in an honesty shop. You just take your bottle, fill out a form, and leave your money (I believe they have camera surveillance, so it isn’t totally on the honor system). My sister was pretty pleased to be able to purchase some local wine after all. At that point, we called it a day and retired to the hotel to do what everyone else seemed to be doing–watching the Switzerland-France game from Euro 2016. We noticed a lot of houses flying both flags, and our proprietor told us at breakfast that he was going to Geneva to catch a flight to Lille for the game–he was a Switzerland fan, but his wife is French. They seemed to have a watch party area set up in Lausanne, but the prospect of trying to catch the Metro, then the last, or next to last, train to Grandvaux around midnight, was just too much, so we missed out on the party.

    June 20(Mo): Our first objective today was to visit Maison Cailler in Broc. Rather than do the Chocolate Train, we opted to simply go on our own. Leaving just after 8:30, the SBB app had us take the train to Palezieux, then a bus to a stop that I would say was in the middle of nowhere, except for the fact that it was purpose built for busses with two shelters, so I guess it is kind of a rural bus junction. At any rate, we made the connections as suggested, ended up in Bulle, and took the local train from there to Broc-Fabrique, arriving at 10:25. Since the exhibit only opened at 10, and the crowds are usually larger in the afternoon, this was plenty early. We got our ticket, and waiting about 15 minutes for our group’s turn. For not being a true factory tour, the Cailler experience is pretty good, and worth it if you like chocolate (and if you don’t like chocolate at all, what’s wrong with you?). The samples provided at the end of the tour are enough to satisfy anyone.

    As we were getting ready to leave, we noted the arrival of a couple of buses, and several packs of school kids. My sister is a 6th grade teacher, and it sometimes seemed today like she had a magnet to attract these kids to wherever we were going. We were glad we left before those hyped up kids got that chocolate in them at the end of the tour.

    After a very light lunch at Maison Cailler, mostly to kill a little time waiting for the next train, we caught the local via Bulle to Grueyeres, where we caught the waiting bus to take us to the village at the top of the hill. In Gruyeres, there were, again, lots of school kids. Because we had the Swiss Travel Pass, which covers admission to the castle, we went ahead and went in the castle, but only looked around the grounds and the courtyard–we’ve seen so many castles the last few trips that we are a little bit jaded, I’m afraid, when it comes to these structures. After running the gauntlet of restaurants serving cheese, and shops selling trinkets, we made our way back to the bus stop, and kept company with a group of kindergarten kids who got on the bus down the hill with us. Once we were down there, we again used the Swiss Pass to make a brief run through the cheese factory by the station. It was too warm and too slow paced at the end of the day for me to sit through the full cheese making demonstration, so we cut it short, but made sure to check out the cave and watch the machine that flips the big wheels of cheese.

    Going back to the station, it seemed like 100 school kids of various ages were waiting for the train to Bulle by the time it arrived. We got on quickly in order to ensure we had seats, and ended up with the kindergarten kids in our car–it was funny watching the teacher count kids like my father counts cattle. At first, they thought they were one short, but a recount revealed they had the full complement, and the teachers breathed a sigh of relief. The local train to Bulle is all second class, so, when we changed trains in Bulle, we were looking forward to some peace and quiet in first class on the train to Romont (we had first class passes)–wrong. More school kids packed this train, and a couple of girls (probably 16, at most, but dressed rather inappropriately), came on in to the first class compartment, and set all the way forward. Couldn’t tell for sure what they were doing, but it appeared that they were rolling cigarettes (or something of that sort). We finally managed to lose the hordes of kids when we changed trains at Romont for Palezieux, and had a peaceful remainder of our trip to Grandvaux. We noticed a lot of school kids in a number of places across the country on this trip just after noon, so we were wondering if Switzerland has shorter hours this time of year, or just exactly what was going on.

    For dinner, we made the short walk down to Relais de la Poste in Grandvaux. They have a great view and good food, but are a little more formal than the Auberge de la Gare, and I like the food and atmosphere at the Auberge a little better, although they are both quality places in my book.

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    June 21(Tu): Today we moved base from Grandvaux to Luzern. After saying goodbye to our hosts at Auberge de la Gare, we hopped a local train for Lausanne, then got on the inter-city train from Lausanne to Luzern (which caused us to effectively double back, passing through Grandvaux without stopping). It was overcast when we left Grandvaux, but by the time we got to Luzern (just after noon), it was raining steadily, if lightly–not great weather for seeing the old town, which would be kind of a logical first step. So, instead, we put our bags in lockers at the train station, and hopped the next boat to the Transport Museum, where we ate lunch and toured one of the most interesting museums I’ve ever seen. It’s a great place for kids, or anyone interested in things mechanical or technical.

    After finishing at the transport museum, we made our way back to the train station, and retrieved our luggage for the short (but wet) walk from the station to Hotel des Alpes. The hotel is ideally situated overlooking the chapel bridge–you couldn’t be more centrally located. The rooms are small, and functional–if you are looking for luxury, or space, this is not the place for you. The staff was friendly and breakfast was good. We had a room with a view of the lake, and we overall satisfied with this property. After we checked in and had dinner, the rain quit and the skies cleared, promising better weather for the next day.

    June 22(We): This morning was set aside to see the old town. We started by just making a sort of windy loop, across the chapel bridge, and up the south bank of the Reuss, then weaving through the streets of the old town on the north bank as we made our way toward the Lowenplatz. The Lion monument is one of those must see sights, and it was interesting to linger for a while as tour bus groups came and went–you would have a loud bunch of selfie-taking tourists crowing the area one minute, and virtual solitude the next. So, my advice to one making this visit is go in the morning, and allow some time for the groups to clear out if they happen to be there when you arrive–they don’t seem to linger very long. Since admission was covered by the Swiss Pass, we opted to take a look at the glacier park next to the Lion monument, which had several interesting components–probably not worth the admission if you had to pay separately, but not a waste of time if you aren’t in a rush and your admission is covered by the Swiss Pass.

    We ate lunch at the cafeteria on top of the Manor department store–a good selection at reasonable prices–before embarking on our afternoon trip to Rigi Kulm. We opted for Rigi over Pilatus primarily because it was covered by the Swiss Pass (whereas Pilatus was only discounted), and it gave us a nice boat ride on the lake in the process. We took the boat to Vitznau and rode the cogwheel train up to the summit. The weather was perfect for this outing–hardly a cloud visible anywhere on the horizon–and the views from the summit were fantastic. On the way back, we got off the train at Rigi Kaltbad and took the cable car down to Weggis, then walked down from the lift station to the pier to catch the boat back.

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    June 23(Th): Another warm sunny day (where was this weather when we were in the mountains?) for our trip from Luzern to St. Gallen. The main reason we added St. Gallen to our itinerary is that my sister wanted to see the Toggenburg valley, where some of our ancestors lived before immigrating to the US. We saw it from the train, but, being toward the end of the trip where fatigue becomes something of an issue, my sister was content to leave it at that, rather than stop, or make a trip back to see the area in more detail. So, on to St. Gallen and its UNESCO world heritage sites. It was extremely warm when we arrived at Hotel Dom, about a 10 minute walk from the train station, and a couple hundred yards away from the cathedral. The ultra-modern rooms at the Hotel Dom were nice, the only thing they were missing is something you don’t usually need in this part of the world–air condition. We got single rooms here, and while I got the larger room (which had a bay window and sort of built-in sofa), my sister’s room had two windows that opened to my one (and my one only opened slightly) so my room was rather warmer than I would have liked.

    After checking in and grabbing some lunch, we toured the abbey library and cathedral before heading back to the hotel for a rest, in order to allow the sun to go down and to make walking more comfortable on a day when the temperatures were in the mid to upper 80s. After six p.m., we headed back out and walked around the old town, fitting in dinner in the process.

    June 24(Fr): Today, we decided to make a daytrip to Appenzell, rather than retrace our steps and take a closer look at Watwill (where our ancestor came from, but which didn’t seem to hold out much in the way of sight seeing). So, we headed to the station, looking for track 13, only to be directed to an adjoining building. Turns out the Appenzeller Bahn has it’s own platform that really isn’t part of the main station, although it is next to it. Getting over to the platform was a bit of a challenge due to the fact that they were repaving the streets and sidewalks in this area–in fact, a lot of the old town in St. Gallen was torn up for resurfacing or work of some sort, which must have irritated the shopkeepers tremendously, because it did limit access to their businesses. At any rate, we found our train, and got in the rather dated carriage for the 45 minute slow ride to Appenzell town.

    Besides being known for a rather smelly cheese, Appenzell is known for being on of the last few remaining towns to vote by an mass gathering of citizens in the Landsgemeindeplatz. This is an attractive town, with lots of half-timbered structures that include hotels, restaurants, and cheese shops. After strolling around for a while, we ate outdoors at a restaurant next to the Landsgemeindeplatz, then strolled around town some more before deciding that we had pretty much seen Appenzell. Although a trip to Ebenalp or Mt. Santis would have been possible, by this point in the trip, we were a little fatigued and opted to return to St. Gallen. They were having an open air opera in the abbey courtyard that evening, but we hadn’t purchased advance tickets, and with rain on the horizon, we decided not to bother (and it did rain about the time the opera was to start–I don’t know if they pressed on or how they handled that).

    June 25(Sa): We got a little bit of a late start to our final day of sightseeing, and didn’t get on the train for Zurich until after 11, which put us arriving in Zurich at Hotel Alexander around 1 p.m. After a light lunch, my sister decided to pass on checking out Zurich, so I went on my own and did a loop up one side of the river, and back down the other. Zurch, in some ways, seemed to be Luzern writ large. I went in at the Grosse Munster, but found it to be rather small for the primary church of a major European city, and intended to go in to check out the Fraumunster, but it was closed for a wedding, the reception for which was being held in the Munsterhof square (judging by the reception, I would imagine it costs a pretty penny to reserve the Fraumunster for a Saturday wedding in June). Rather than wait around for the church to open back up (and miss the start of the Switerland-France game), I opted to keep on exploring, going up to the Lindenhoff, and eventually back over to Neiderdorfstrasse and our hotel. I had sort of been looking for a public viewing of the upcoming game, but was surprised not to see anything, other than a bar here, and a restaurant there. Maybe something of that sort was done further from the city center and I just missed. At any rate, we just ended up watching the game at the hotel on TV, and calling it a day, in anticipation of a long day of travel home.

    June 26(Su): Our Swiss Pass having expired the day before, we bought one-way tickets for the trip to the Flughafen at the railroad station, and were at the airport by 7:45 for our 10:30 flight. While the airport at Zurich is nice and new, I found the signs to be a little lacking, and it took us a while to find our way to terminal E and our gate, but we did (after killing a little time at the Aspire lounge). Our trip to Atlanta was pretty unremarkable until we got close to the airport, at which point some thundershowers popped up and starting wreaking havoc. This wasn’t a major cell or anything of the sort, but there was lightning and it managed to shut down the airport for probably no more than an hour, and the ripple effects created by this impacted the entire Delta schedule to the point that our connecting flight to OKC was delayed by over 3 hours. As it turned out, a shorter delay in Atlanta probably just would have ended up in us being diverted from, or delayed in getting into OKC as a separate system of thunderstorms was impacting operations in OKC about the time we would have been arriving had we been on time. Nonetheless, we made it to the terminal at 11:20, found the car in the parking garage after reclaiming our bags, were on our way home by 11:45, and I was back in Texas, in my own bed, by 1:45 a.m., at the end of another eventful European trip.

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    Hi twk,

    Thanks for your wonderfully detailed trip report on your Swiss trip! I love the vicarious travelling with good trip reports like this!!

    I've taken the train through Palezieux a few times, and I found that area of the country to be absolutely stunningly beautiful with those rolling green hills. Did you find it nice?

    I'm glad you mention the taxi in Wengen -- I've always stayed at a hotel there, and they always met me at the station with an electric van. And when staying there, the van driver would always want to drive me to the station in the mornings when I would leave for the day -- I always had to tell him "no." Just wanted to add this, in case folks who don't want to or can't walk up & down the hills know that there are options for getting around.

    Speaking of getting around -- I'm surprised you two took the bus up & down between the Gruyeres station and the village. It's a pretty little walk of about 20 minutes, well worth doing.

    Did you guys have the chance to walk along the lakeside promenade in Montreux?

    Thanks again for the chance to travel from in front of the computer!!

    s

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    swandav2000:

    I did find the area around Palezieux to be attractive. I was glad that the SBB app sent me that way rather than back through Montreux to see the same route we had passed through on the Glacier Express. I didn't get a lot of great photos of it, but as the son of a rancher, it was interesting to observe the larger scale dairy operations that you found in Fribourg as compared to the Alps.

    We didn't get a chance to do the promenade in Montreux. In retrospect, I would rather have had an extra day (or two) on Lake Geneva. I think I may come back this way again on another trip (I want to go back to Provence and the French Riviera, and this area would fit in to such a trip).

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    PalenQ: For anyone that's real budget conscious, it's certainly not a necessity--those few times when you really do want first class (like the Golden Pass, or maybe the occasional lake cruise) you can upgrade--but, as a matter of convenience, it was nice, particularly with luggage. We knew we'd always have room, and didn't have to bother with upgrades on the boats where it can really be important (second class was really crowded on both legs of our Rigi excusion). If I were going back, I'd probably opt for first class again.

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    Great! I find it to be a lovely area, and I go back for 2 weeks every year or every other year. I have yet to spend any time around Palezieux, but I may do that this Oct.

    I've heard more than one Swiss person say that the reason for their great chocolate is their happy cows . . .!!

    s

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    ditto to your comments about first class - always a benefit but 2nd class in Switzerland is fine for many - such a small country you are never on a train for very long (unless the Glacier Express 8-9 hour marathon run!)

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    As a postscript, I went back and tried to figure out what I actually spent vs. what I might have spent had I purchased the half fare card, but upgraded to first class on the boat trips and for the Zweissman to Montreux rail trip. Although I'm a little unsure about the Lake Brienz trip (web site only appeared to offer a return fare, and we took the boat one way), here's what I came up with.

    Actual cost (15 day 1st class Swiss Travel Pass plus discounted trips in mountains, and trip from Zurich to airport): 858.80

    Half-fare card option (First Class): 908.70

    Half-fare card option (2nd class) plus upgrades: 792.90

    Now, with the half-fare option, I wouldn't have gotten the museum admission discount, and I certainly would have incurred the 22 franc cost to get into Ballenburg, 18 francs to get into the Olympic Museum, and would have paid an extra 15 francs to get into the Transport Museum, not to mention the places that I might not have gone into if I'd had to pay a separate admission. So, even if I'm a little off on the cost of upgrades, I think I came out as well with the first class Swiss Pass as I would have with the Half-fare card, second class.

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    I think I came out as well with the first class Swiss Pass as I would have with the Half-fare card, second class.>

    Traveling first class all the time is worth a lot IME plus not having to wait in line to buy tickets and if I have a pass I find that I may ride more things than if I have to think about 'is it worth xxCHF to take say a boat trip on a whim on some Swiss lake.

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