"Too Much Cows"

Old Jul 30th, 2017, 10:44 AM
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"Too Much Cows"

In late May we spent 10 days in Iceland and then flew from Reykjavik to Zurich to spend 10 days in Switzerland, a country we’ve visited many times, but can’t seem to get enough of.

The Iceland Trip Report is here if anyone is interested:

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-road-trip.cfm

We’ve visited the Berner Oberland, Zermatt and the more ‘touristy’ bits of Switzerland several times over the years, but these days we much prefer quiet, off-the-beaten-path locations. Our primary interests are hiking, beautiful alpine scenery and good food/wine.

Enter Ilanz and Kandersteg.

We discovered the canton of Graubunden in eastern Switzerland a few years ago, and have made repeat trips to the Engadine Valley (based in Samaden and Scuol) several times since. This time we wanted something new, so we picked the brain of Fodorite Ingo, who suggested the Vorderrhein valley in the Surselva district. He also suggested the town of Ilanz as a base, and went so far as to find what turned out to be the perfect apartment.

We learned long ago that an expensive Switzerland can be made more attractive by booking apartments instead of hotels, especially in the low season. We prefer the extra space anyway, and having a fully equipped kitchen to whip up breakfast is a bonus, so it’s win-win.

We’d stayed in Kandersteg once before, years ago around Easter. We’d talked about going back to see what the Oeschinesee looked like in the summer months and to walk the entire Gemmi Pass route (we’d just walked a section previously). This seemed as good a time as any.

Day 1 -

Our early morning flight from Reykjavik to Zurich on Iceland Air left 30 minutes late, but was a good one – smooth. Flight time was 3:30. It was 28C when we arrived, much hotter than we expected and a bit of a shock after chilly Iceland. The first thing Bill said when we landed was “trees”!

Upon arrival in Zurich we cashed up at the ATM, bought Half Fare Cards for the next 10 days of train travel (120 CHF each – 30 day), bought ½ fare tickets to our first destination, Ilanz (30 CHF each) and made a run to Migros for train food; 18 CHF bought us salami, paper thin Le Gruyere cheese (a personal favorite), two rolls, two small tubs of Icelandic Skyr (happy to see it had followed us to Zurich!), and a 375 ml bottle of red wine.

Switzerland gets a bad rap for being expensive, and it is, but after 10 days in Iceland, it felt downright reasonable, and better yet, good VALUE.

Our journey to Ilanz via the Zurich Hauptbahnhof and an ICE train to Chur took just under 2.5 hours. The ride was typically Swiss gorgeous, vibrant green pastures dotted with cows, snow covered mountains, heavy sigh...

In Chur we boarded our connecting train to Ilanz; an indecipherable announcement was made, and everyone got up and left the train. Hmmmm. We frantically sought out the conductor, asked if she spoke English, and were told that there was an electrical problem on the train and a bus would be provided to take us to Ilanz. A bit of chaos followed - one bus arrived, filled and left. Then a double-decker bus arrived – it wasn’t clear where we should put our luggage, so we sought out the driver who opened a high door on the side of the bus and even lifted it for us, bless him. We boarded, another indecipherable announcement was made, and we set out on the incredibly pretty and winding drive to Ilanz via various alpine villages. We arrived 45 minutes later than planned, but we considered the detour a bonus and a taste of what was to come.

Upon arrival in Ilanz (which was bigger than we expected), we sought out assistance from a lovely young man in the train station information office who steered us in the right direction to our apartment. We didn’t know it at the time, but he would be our savior over the coming days.

As so often happens, our apartment was situated at the top of a rather steep hill, about a 15 minute walk from the train station, so we rumbled up with our luggage, stopping occasionally to check our map.

The apartment is within the owner’s home, yet completely private. It consists of a compact living room, breakfast nook, and an exceptionally well equipped kitchen (although we could have used a skillet), a separate bedroom and bathroom. It was spotless and comfortable and worked a treat.
We really appreciated the shutters on the windows, which kept our room cool during the heat of the day, and added a bit of privacy. There was light traffic in the mornings, but we could hear more birds than cars, which is always a plus in my book.

There was a small sitting area in the yard for our use; we spent several evenings out there admiring the impressive flower garden. We’d booked directly, and paid cash upon arrival. Our five nights came to 415 CHF, inclusive of linens, internet, final cleaning and tourist tax.

The owner, Mrs. Heiligensetzer, relied on her high school English to communicate with us, and we on our pitiful 50 word German vocabulary, yet somehow it worked.

We’d done laundry in Reykjavik before leaving for Switzerland, thinking we’d be set for the balance of our trip, but we’d not expected to be hiking in an early June heat wave and smelling like goats. There was no Laundromat in town, but Mrs. Heiligensetzer offered to let us wash a load of laundry and use her outdoor clothes line, which was a godsend.

http://www.ferienwohnung-valserstrasse.ch/

After getting settled, we made a food run to the nearby COOP - four tubs of Skyr, walnut bread, two types of cheese, milk, Rosti, two types of salami, a bottle of wine, three large bottles of beer, a box of Caotina hot cocoa packets, fresh strawberries, and the obligatory Swiss chocolate and gummy bears – 63 CHF. I only provide my grocery list as a comparison between what things cost in Iceland and what they cost in Switzerland. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven.

We then backtracked to Old Town, settling onto the patio of Hotel Obertor for drinks, surprised at how warm it was so late in the evening. It was here we discovered we might have more trouble than usual communicating in this part of Switzerland. Fortunately, Weißbier and Trockener Weißwein are part of our limited German vocabulary.

Then it was back to the apartment, where it felt really good to put the one night stands of Iceland behind us and settle in for a few days.

It got dark around 9:30 pm, which felt strange, but somehow refreshing, after 10 nights in the land of the midnight sun. Perhaps we could catch up on our sleep.

To be continued...
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Old Jul 30th, 2017, 12:34 PM
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Sounds like a great start of your Switzerland vacation, albeit an adventure to get to Ilanz. Thank God they speak German in Switzerland (for me ) Glad it worked so well with the apartment (and sorry for the location up the hill.)

Keep it coming!
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Old Jul 30th, 2017, 01:26 PM
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I have been waiting for this
What a deal with your apartment... I have booked hotels throughout, for our September visit, so it has been eye wateringly expensive.
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Old Jul 30th, 2017, 06:02 PM
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Ingo -

Ah yes, hills and Switzerland...can't have one without the other!

Don't you dare apologize for being helpful! It was brilliant.

I don't suppose you know of an apartment in Lenzerheide (or Arosa)? You seem to know what we like I'm looking for a place in mid December and I can't seem to find many direct booking options, no doubt due to my stellar German and Romansh.

Adelaiden - Good to hear! I will do my best to finish before you leave for your trip (halfway through already, so there is hope!)
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 05:29 AM
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Day 2 -

Unable to find trail maps in English, we consulted with our new found friends at the train station and with their help, decided to walk along the Vorderrhein (one of the two sources of the Rhine) at the base of the Reinschlucht, also referred to as “The Swiss Grand Canyon”. We didn’t know it at the time, but the 20 km long river section between Ilanz and Reichenau is a popular white water rafting area.

We’d understood it to be a three hour trek, but it took us close to four hours to walk from Ilanz to Versam Safien (just under six hours including two café stops). The day was unbearably hot, the trail hilly and rather exposed, with plentiful roots, loose rocks and scree, but the views of the river, the incredible vertical limestone cliffs and deep chasms were absolutely fabulous.

https://www.graubuenden.ch/en/explor.../rheinschlucht

Until we reached Valendas-Sagogn, a station on the Rhaetian Railway that links Chur and Disentis, we’d not seen another soul. Suddenly we came upon a construction crew building a bridge and a welcoming little café with umbrella covered tables. Perfect timing, as we both needed to rest and cool off. I’m not a beer drinker, but suddenly I desperately wanted one...and that ice cold Weizenbier was Wunderbar! (12.40 CHF for two).

We forged on to Versam-Safien, filling up our water bottles en route at a deliciously cold fresh spring. The heat was miserable; I was beginning to think the trail would never end, but some 8+ hot, sticky miles since leaving Ilanz, we finally reached Versam-Safien, yet another station on the line of the Rhaetian Railway that links Chur and Disentis.

With 45 minutes until the next train, we bought our return train tickets (3.40 CHF each with ½ fare card) then walked uphill a bit and settled in at a shady table outside a tiny café. Worried that I didn’t have enough cash on me (our ATM card had been rejected twice in Ilanz), I went in and asked the proprietor if 13 CHF would cover a beer and a glass of wine – fortunately it did (12.40 CHF).

As we rested and enjoyed the scenery, I noticed that the sapphire from my engagement ring was missing – six days short of our 35th wedding anniversary. Evidently I’d knocked it out at some point, perhaps even the previous day wrangling luggage on and off the train/bus.

Versam-Safien is a tiny station with one track in each direction. We weren’t sure which track we should wait by – the one closest to the station, or the one just beyond it, which would be cut off from us when the next train arrived. The arrivals board showed both trains arriving at the same time.

I approached a woman waiting nearby and asked if she spoke English - she did - she assured us that as weird as the set up seemed it would work – we had a nice chat and she suggested that we visit the area above us, the top of the gorge, and to not miss Restaurant Conn.

The ride back to Ilanz took a mere 15-20 minutes. The ride was gorgeous, the train full, possibly with commuters from Chur (?).

Back in Ilanz, we popped into Restaurant Todi for an early dinner, where we shared a fabulous plate of Capuns drenched in a decadent cream butter sauce and a decent salami pizza (50 CHF including beer and wine).

Note: Capuns are a traditional food from the canton of Graubünden in Switzerland, made from Spätzle dough with pieces of dried meat, and rolled in a chard leaf. They’re often served in a sauce of cream and butter and covered with grated cheese. Although there are many variations, we’ve yet to have any that weren’t wonderful...many thanks to Ingo for introducing us to Capuns a few years ago – we’ve never looked back.

Restaurant Todi doesn’t accept credit cards, so Bill ran to the bank to try the ATM again, unsuccessfully, so we had to use our Visa card to get a cash advance to pay our tab.

That evening was spent talking to our credit union via Skype. Evidently, they’d blocked our ATM card the previous day after we’d made two back-to-back withdrawals at the Zurich Airport, in an attempt to withdraw sufficient funds to pay for the apartment, but not knowing the exact USD-CHF exchange rate.

Anyway, problem solved, we were back in business.

Photos here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/melnq8...h/35640782580/

To be continued...
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 09:15 AM
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Thanks for posting, was looking forward to this the whole day Brilliant pictures also, doesn't look *that* hot ;-) It's part of the Glacier Express route, btw. Yes, I think many folks commute from the Surselva to Chur, not too many jobs up there in the valley.

Oh, Capuns ... I'm getting hungry, but salmon and spinach with rice will have to do today.
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 09:52 AM
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Nice pics, Mel - love the empty plate!

I've never heard of Capuns before - i wonder if we'll find them when we get to Interlaken next week. Wonder if the weather will still be that hot?

BTW you are not the only one to benefit from Ingo's great accommodation recommendations, we stayed in a lovely hotel in Dresden that he suggested a few years ago.
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 10:10 AM
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Now you make me blush, annhig Thanks!

No Capuns in the Interlaken area, I am afraid. They are a specialty of canton Graubünden/Grisons - but maybe you can find a restaurant with Grisons food?

PS: Mel - I'll do some research for Lenzerheide-Valbella-Parpan. Think it's better for you than Arosa.
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 10:17 AM
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Hi annhig -

Capuns are from the canton of Graubünden, so I'd be surprised if you found them in Interlaken.

Never fear though, there's plenty of good food in the Berner Oberland too - the land of Rosti, Raclette, mountain cheese, sausage, and seasonally, trout. And don't forget the ice cream and sorbet. One of the perks of visiting in the summer months.

And Älpermagronen - not sure if that's region specific, as I've seen it in several parts of Switzerland - heavy for summer, but OMG.

Now I'm hungry.
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 12:21 PM
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I had to google Älpermagronen but I think I get the idea - onions, garlic and bacon with cheese and other additions. Sounds good.

Ingo - if we see a restaurant offering Grisons food I'll drag DH in there, even if he screams and kicks. and no need to blush!
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 02:53 PM
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annhig -

Älpermagronen is like mac and cheese on steroids - it usually has diced potatoes in addition to the noodles, plus all that lovely cheese, often topped with crispy onions. It's typical Swiss stick-to-your-arse-fare.
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 04:54 PM
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Too cool off I suggest Movenpick chocolate ice cream with shaved chocolate pieces. Buy the carton and share!
Thanks for sharing your trip and photos Mel!
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Old Aug 1st, 2017, 12:49 AM
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I am really looking forward to Swiss food!

So unusual to see green in your Switzerland photos after all your December trips, Mel, did you enjoy the non winter trip more than you expected?
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Old Aug 1st, 2017, 04:19 AM
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Indeed we did Adelaidean. We could have used without the heatwave, but otherwise...
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Old Aug 1st, 2017, 02:06 PM
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Looks like a gorgeous area.

It doesn't seem right to be in the alps with snow up on peaks/glaciers, but sweltering in a heat wave, does it? I love the views, but prefer to hike below the tree line for some shade.
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Old Aug 1st, 2017, 02:29 PM
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Kay2 -

No it doesn't! We'd visited early in the season to avoid the heat.

Best laid plans...
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Old Aug 1st, 2017, 05:35 PM
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Day 3 -

We took a train from Ilanz to Disentis/Muster (16.60 CHF each return with ½ fare card) and popped into the train station to enquire about walks in the area. A very helpful young woman suggested we take the train to Sedrun then walk back to Disentis, stopping for lunch in Segnas.

With time to spare, we walked up to the Disentis Monastery (Benedictine Abbey), where we poked around a bit and took in the views above town before catching the next train to Sedrun (3.10 CHF each one way, with ½ fare card).

https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-us/...-disentis.html

Once in Sedrun, we slowly worked our way to Segnas, via the Senda Sursilvana trail, which extends some 100 kilometers from Oberalp Pass to Chur. This section of the trail was undulating and varied, the day hot, the wildflowers amazing. I must have taken 100 photos of flowers, bugs and butterflies.

Once in Segnas, we settled in for an alfresco lunch at Ustaria Cresta, where we both tucked into beautiful Mozzarella tomato salads and shared a small bottle of Sylvaner Riesling, a local favorite of ours (42 CHF total). Lovely spot this.

The final stretch to Disentis led us through cow, sheep and goat filled pastures, serenaded by a cacophony of bells, and alongside flower and gnome filled gardens. We followed the river through town, walking past the church. The immaculately tended cemeteries in Switzerland never cease to amaze me and this one was no exception – two people were working on the grounds as we passed – it was awash in blooming flowers. (I’ve heard that Swiss cemeteries are rented for 25 years and then dug up and the site reused- anyone know if this is true?)

We’d logged about 6.5 miles, and had found yet another beautiful part of Switzerland. I could see us staying in Disentis on a future trip.

With plenty of time before the next train to Ilanz, we sat at a table under an umbrella at the station café and ogled the tempting ice cream/sorbet menu. Resistance was futile. I greedily dug into a dish of Blutorangensorbet, blood orange sorbet with a shot of Campari – icy and delicious. Bill stuck with his Weizenbier (14.50 CHF).

We ran into the station employee who’d recommended the walk; she seemed genuinely interested in what we thought and was very pleased that we’d enjoyed our day.

On our return to Ilanz we detrained at Waltensburg, planning to check out the frescoes in the church mentioned by Ingo, but not realizing until we’d gotten off the train that Waltensburg was about a 45 minute walk uphill from the station (and there was no connecting bus). My knees were in no mood for a trip up and back, so we just poked around the valley and waited an hour for the next train. This is a stop on demand station, the train won’t stop unless someone is getting off, or those waiting on the platform push the STOP button.

Back in Ilanz we revisited Restaurant Todi for a buttery and delicious Capuns encore - we had the restaurant to ourselves – 72 CHF for two plates of Capuns and 5dl of Sylvaner Riesling. Wunderbar!

And then came the rain – lovely and cool, washing away the stickiness.

A brilliant day all around.

Photos here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/melnq8...h/35193249164/

To be continued...
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Old Aug 1st, 2017, 07:55 PM
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Beautiful photos Melnq8. We stayed in Guarda last year and loved the area. Your trip sounds so lovely. I hope you two have a great time.
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Old Aug 1st, 2017, 09:02 PM
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Hi Melnq8,

I so love reading your trip reports!! I love that you find such un-heralded spots of beautiful Switzerland, and that you stay long enough and walk through so much of it so you get a true feel for the area. And then you pass it on to us! Lucky us!

Thanks for this lovely report.

((I have to admit that I hesitate to look at your photos because I don't want my carefully laid future travel plans disrupted ...!!))

s
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Old Aug 2nd, 2017, 01:01 AM
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Lovely, Mel,

.... we head off on our Swiss adventure on 2 September
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