Wednesday June 14th
June was a stressful month for Melissa and me, filled with the planning and worry associated with our forthcoming move back to America. However, we had a welcome break from the stress in the middle of the month when Melissa’s aunt, Jodi Windschitl, came to visit. For six days we took advantage of the time with our final guest to be tourists in our adoptive country one final time.
Jodi arrived in Zurich, Switzerland by plane around 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday June 14th. To make things easier on her, I picked her up at the airport in a rental car, leaving our apartment early in the morning for the two-hour drive while Melissa went into work like a normal day. After parking the car at the airport, I quickly found Jodi outside the arrivals gate, and we then decided to take a quick sightseeing walk through Zurich before driving back.
After a ten-minute train from the airport to the hauptbahnhof, we were ready to begin our tour. We meandered through the cobblestone streets of the charming old town, then strolled along the rushing, blue-tinged waters of Zurich’s Limmat river, until we reached the city’s large lake called Zurichsee, (located about a mile south of the station). Along our way, we periodically stopped to gaze at the city’s architecture, including Zurich’s largest church, the Grossmünster, which has colorful windows made of thinly sliced agates that are incredible to see from the churches interior. At the lake, clouds obstructed our view to the snow-capped Alps, but it was still fun to watch the peaceful waves, and see the ducks and swans fight over bread crumbs on the shore. When we turned around to walk back to the train station we took the most direct route.
It was only 11 a.m. when we came back to the rental car, so we decided to stop in Bern for lunch since it was on the way toward the apartment and just about an hour away from Zurich. The restaurant I picked out, called Altes Tramdepot, was on the banks of Bern’s Aare river, overlooking Bern’s compact old town. As Jodi and I walked to the restaurant our path took us past Bern’s bear pit, where we were surprised to see one European brown bear outside enjoying the sunny day. The bear pit is almost as old as the city of Bern, and the reason it even exists is because in the Swiss dialect the word Bern means bear, so the city has kept bears since the middle ages as mascots. In modern times the pit has been expanded to let the bears roam a large fenced off area of river bank, and the bears have had to come from outside Switzerland since they are no longer native to the country.
At the restaurant we had hearty German style meals. Then, once we were finished, we walked across a tall bridge into the old town of Switzerland’s capital city. Jodi and I just poked our heads in far enough along Bern’s main street to get a feel for the city’s cobblestone streets, tightly spaced buildings with cellar shops, and to see the statues above the creek flowing down the middle of the street. We then hurried back to our parked car to complete the journey home.
At the apartment Jodi settled into our guest room, and then we chatted until Melissa came home early from work. For dinner we enjoyed a meat and Swiss cheese tray, washed down with Swiss wine before Jodi went to bed early.
Thursday June 15th
We planned a laid back sightseeing day for Thursday, with the only destination being Evian, France, located just across Lake Geneva from Lausanne. Melissa went into work in the morning, while Jodi slept in until about 10 a.m. Around 11 a.m. we caught the international ferry boat from Lausanne’s port that would take us to France. It was a beautiful sunny day as our boat cruised across the lake. I’ve seen the stunning views of French Alps, and Swiss vineyards numerous times, but it was fun to be with Jodi as she enjoyed the views for the first time.
In Evian things looked pretty similar to Lausanne, except for there being more French flags hung among the buildings. The most famous tourist attraction in the city is a natural spring, which is the source of Evian bottled water. From the port it was a short walk up hill to the spring with signs guiding us. Just like the last time I visited, we found a line of people waiting to fill up water bottles at the spring. When it was our turn we took a moment to feel pretentious as we sampled the water, and then made sure to take touristy photos as we filled up our bottles.
Right next to the spring we found a free funicular railroad that we rode to the upper section of town. We were hoping for a good view of the lake at the top, but we were disappointed to find trees and houses in the way. To find our view we had to walk a while until we reached an open park. I think the view from Switzerland is better because you get to see the French Alps, but it was still nice to look down at the lake, and to look across at the rolling Swiss farm fields turning to vineyards and then to the sprawling town of Lausanne on the lakeshore. If I had binoculars I think I would have been able to pick out our apartment building across the lake.
From the park Jodi and I walked down to the lakefront of Evian. There we shared a pizza for lunch at a restaurant where the waiter didn’t speak any English. After catching the ferry boat back to Switzerland, at around 2 p.m., we rode public transit back to the apartment, and found Melissa was already home waiting for us. In the rest of the afternoon and into the evening we just hung out at the apartment talking, relaxing, and planning our travel for the next few days.
Friday June 16th
Once again we had a laidback day on Friday. Melissa took the day off work to join Jodi and me, and we spent the day checking out local sights. In the morning we shopped at a Swiss grocery store, in the afternoon we visited a Swiss beach, and in the evening we took a tour through a nearby Swiss vineyards.
After a big breakfast of crepes the three of us took a short walk to the largest grocery store in our neighborhood, a big box store called Aligro. Jodi perused the wide selection of European wines and Swiss chocolates looking for souvenirs, while Melissa and I picked up a few everyday groceries.
We came back to the apartment for a light lunch, then, in the afternoon, we went for another short walk, this time going in the direction of Lake Geneva. Directly south of our apartment, and about a mile west of the town of Lausanne, is the best, sandiest, beach on Lake Geneva. Because the beach is along a small, shallow, sandy bay the sun heats up the glacial water enough to make swimming pleasant. We spent our time lounging on the shore, and wadding out into the lake while enjoying the view of being surrounded by snowcapped Alps. Around 4 p.m. we had to get moving again so that we could be home in time for supper and to catch a train to our planned evening activity.
After a small supper, we hopped on a train to reach the town of Lutry, just 10 minutes east of Lausanne. From the train station in Lutry, we walked downhill through the centuries-old, picturesque town until we reached the town’s lakeshore. There we were scheduled to meet the Lavaux Express, a tourist attraction ride that goes through the vineyards of Lavaux. It consisted of a small tractor, made to look like a train, that pulled passenger wagons up and through the scenic wine terraces.
We only had to wait a few minutes at the lakeshore until our ride’s departure. The views were breathtaking as we climbed through the hills, but also a little nerve racking as we looked over steep cliffs on one side, and to the occasional car passing within inches of us on the other side—all from our flimsy passenger wagon without a seatbelt. Halfway through our ride we made a stop in the town of Epesses to visit a wine cellar (called a “cave” in French.) In a dimly lit, musky room an old man with a French accent told us some history of the region, and the process of wine making, while we got to sample three different local wines.
When our wine tasting was through, we loaded back onto the express to ride it down through the vineyard hills to Lutry along the same route we had initially come up. We grabbed a train back to our apartment where we chatted into the night before turning in to rest up for Saturday’s adventure.
Saturday June 17th
No visit to Switzerland can be complete without a visit to the Alps, so it went that Saturday we planned a trip to the top of a nearby peak called Scex Rouge. This particular peak was one of multiple peaks in a region called Glacier 3000. Our journey to the mountain began with renting a car in Lausanne, then, after about an hour and a half drive toward the canton of Valais, we came to Col du Pillon at 1546m, where the gondola base station was located.
Before ascending we had a small picnic lunch, then we loaded into the first of two crowded gondolas that would take us up to just below the 2971m peak. At the top we were greeted with snow, and spectacular 360 degree views. When the awe of our initial views wore off, we continued toward the Scex Rouge peak by hiking up steel grated steps to a narrow suspension bridge called “The Peak Walk”. As we walked across the swaying, 107m long, bridge it was dizzying to look down and see the ground hundreds of feet below us.
At the peak we stayed long enough to marvel at the views in all directions, then we walked back across the bridge, and down the steps to the gondola station. At the station there was a terrace with tables and chairs, so before heading all the way down we sat for a while to share a bottle of wine. Once we made it down from the mountain, we loaded back into the rental car to continue our traveling with a driving tour through the canton of Valais.
As we drove through the valley made by the Rhone river we marveled at the Alps rising miles high on either side of us. Our first sightseeing stop was in the town of Martigny, which is famous for being at the base of the St. Bernard pass. The Romans were the first ones to heavily travel the pass, and for this reason there are many Roman ruins still in Martigny. Our quick stop in the town took us to the Roman amphitheater, which looked well kept enough to me that the town’s people could probably still use it.
After Martigny we hurried off to Sion, the capital city of the canton of Valais. It was hot, and we were all a little tired when we pulled off the freeway. Our plan was to hike up a hill where a basilica was built overlooking the town, but I parked in the wrong parking lot at first. Melissa was able to guide me through some very narrow and steep city streets to a parking lot just below the basilica, but then I was worried that we weren’t supposed to be there. Melissa convinced me to just park, and fortunately we didn’t find any tickets on the car after our hike.
Even though we parked near the top of the basilica hill, it was still a strenuous walk uphill. I had already seen the basilica, so when we reached a shady spot just below the church I let Jodi and Melissa go on without me. Once they were satisfied with the view from the top, we marched down the hill to the car, then drove directly home. We were all thoroughly exhausted from our day’s touring, but also all happy to have seen so much.
Sunday June 18th
Sunday’s travel destination was Interlaken. In the morning it took us a while to get going because I had sold our sectional couch and arranged for the buyer to pick it up at 10 a.m. Right on time two college aged guys showed up… with a small two door hatchback car. We all had our doubts about whether the couch would fit, but after taking out a few bolts to disassemble the couch into five pieces the guys got the largest piece into their car. Still, it was over an hour and required three trips back and forth for the guys to get all the pieces.
Once we were finally on the road, it was smooth driving along the Swiss freeway. Normally I like riding in trains better, but the section between Bern and Interlaken is much cooler in a car. At first the road goes straight toward the Alps, with the snow capped peaks filling up all the space between the road and the sky, then it twists and turns along the idyllic, miles long, Alpine lake called Thunersee. When we reached the outskirts of Interlaken we turned away from the town to drive up the Lauterbrunnen valley.
Lauterbrunnen means “loud fountain” in German, and appropriately we saw multiple waterfalls cascading over cliffs into the valley as we drove toward the town of Lauterbrunnen. After parking our car we walked to the base of a large waterfall, and then ate a small picnic lunch. We then hiked up a steep, switch-back filled trail toward the waterfall. Interestingly, the trail included a long tunnel made of corrugated steel, after which we hiked up along a path cut into the cliff side. Just before the main waterfall the trail abruptly ended, but some water still splashed on us. We enjoyed a nice view of the valley at the end of the trail, then we hiked back to the car.
Our next stop was the town of Murren, which required us to drive our car almost to the end of the valley then ride two gondolas up and over the cliff-side of the valley. In our gondola we saw some people hauling paragliding equipment, and decided to follow them to their jump off point once we came to Murren. It was cool to watch them set up their parachutes then run down a steep grassy hill and be lifted into the air. Our time in Murren was next spend walking through the touristy main street until we found a restaurant with a nice terrace. We sipped on beer while enjoying the breathtaking view until it was nearing supper time.
For supper we headed down the mountain, then drove our car into Interlaken. We first strolled along the river, which connects the two lakes of Interlaken, and then wandered through some touristy streets before finding a suitable restaurant. We had American style burgers and beer, then set off for home as the sun approached the horizon.
Monday June 19th
We still had the rental car on Monday, but we didn’t feel like driving anywhere far away. While listing nearby attractions, we decided on driving to the summit of Mont Tendre, a peak in the Jura mountain range that we can see from our dining room. After packing a picnic lunch in the apartment, we set out for the mountain. Melissa and I had already been to the top a few times, but we still enjoyed the trip, and not just for the spectacular view, but also for the fun of driving up the mountain road to the top. The narrow, switchback-filled, road barely fits one car, yet it is used for two way traffic. Adding to the driving difficulty, is that the road goes through open pastures, where you have to expect cows or goats to be obliviously standing in the middle of the road in at least one spot.
When we reached the summit parking lot, without crashing our car, we still had approximately a quarter mile to hike uphill to reach the true summit. It wasn’t the clearest day that Melissa and I had seen on top of the mountain, but it wasn’t the worst either. Looking in all directions we could see for miles, but it was just a little too hazy to see Mont Blanc almost 60 miles away.
After finishing our picnic lunch, and a bottle of wine between Melissa and Jodi, I drove us back to the apartment. The rest of the afternoon was spent hanging out at the apartment, with Jodi packing and figuring out the earliest train to the airport for the next day. After supper we took a short walk to a nearby bar where we drank to celebrate Jodi’s fun time with us, and also to celebrate all the fun times we’ve had hosting people that was now coming to an end.