A Peak into The Switzer Land

It’s been a while. The last time I laid eyes on real mountains. A long while actually, well over a year ago if you don’t count two or three short teasing ‘glimpses’. Yesterday I saw some real frikkin’ big ones. Up close. Made me feel small. Made me feel good.

explanatory mountain infographic

explanatory mountain infographic

The weather was … well it couldn’t have been any nicer … pure blue sky and sunshine. My face is red and the skin hurts to touch, a bit. I blame that on the sunshine and snow. Oh yeah … snow played a supporting role. The place was Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland, deep in the Switzer Land. No, it didn’t smell like cheese nor look like chocolate although on a side note the super delicious Lindt chocolate easter bunnies were on sale in one shop at 75% of the usual not super cheap price. Scored and enjoyed 🙂

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Temptation … yummi

My personal way back machine contains memory data of my having visited the area in my early teen years. This being a few years later and my interest and curiosity in the area still going strong, wife and I decided to head down there on a day trip. This we accomplished without using our car. Instead we made use of a very practical rail pass that can be purchased in advance for a specific date and what makes it oh so über cool is that you can travel with depth and breadth of the Switzer Lands by rail, city transit, water and cable car for one very cheapo cost (note: most cable car rides will cost you half the normal price and are generally not included as ‘free’ on the day ticket). Cost 40Chf per person = 32Euros = 50Cdn$ approx. Not a bad deal considering that rail travel in Europe is not that cheap. Doing the exploring of smaller countries in this fashion saves you wear and tear on your own vehicle, the stresses of navigating to new places and the near insurmountable obstacle of finding reasonable parking when you get to where you go. We hoped on the bus right in front of our place (convenience +), hopped off at the Badischer Bahnhof in Basel and this is where the fun part of the early morning began. You see, while I’d looked up various departure times from there to where we wanted to go, I neglected to also take a careful look at the multiple rail connections the various options had, i.e. times and track numbers as well as something as silly as which cities that we would have to get on and off the train and connections, hmmm.

screenshot of departures, sans specifics ... oops

screenshot of departures, sans specifics … oops

My wife was not impressed that I’d neglected that simple yet important factoid in planning … well that I’d not planned well enough. Ok, so that added a bit of stress but we managed to make the three connections without any real issues and didn’t miss any trains either, and that averted further stress. We also discovered that we could ride the ICE train in the Switzer Land without additional costs, coolio that. Note: the higher speeds this train is known for slowed to nearly a crawl in many of the more winding sections on our three hour trip. The speeds were ok from Basel to Bern.

riding the rains towards the  jagged peaks

racing on rails towards the jagged peaks

Swiss Train at Interlaken Ost Bahnhof

Swiss Train at Interlaken Ost Bahnhof

In Interlaken, (567m above sea level)  the Thuner See to the north and the Brienzersee to the south, we switched to the regional train that took us up through Wilderswil and on to Zweilütschinen. Instead of continuing on up to the town of Grindelwald (1034m above sea level), we hoped onto a bus for that (20minute) stretch as work was being done on that section of the rail line.

on-board windowsill graphic/map

on-board windowsill graphic/map

It was not yet noon when we arrived at our destination. What struck me most of all as soon as I got off the bus and raised my eyes to the view was the immensity of the surrounding mountains that ranged just west of the small valley; not a narrow valley but not that large either.

the Eiger, the town and the yellow bus

the Eiger, the town and the yellow bus

It felt good. Really good. I always feel good when I am in the mountains, when I can see them … feel them. My wife also has a similar reaction and adds that she feels like she’s come home when she’s in the mountains. These fuckers however made me feel small. Real small. It was weird. I’m walking around, looking at this or that chalet and taking in how people live here and then I look up and am blown away, overpowered by the magnitude of the towering mountain peaks right above my head. Overwhelming in the best possible sense. And to see that residents of this town had such spectacular backdrops to their everyday lives … very cool indeed.

this is the view someone has out of their kitchen window, of a quaintly solid chalet home. It's the Eiger

this is the view someone has out of their kitchen window, of a quaintly solid chalet home. It’s only one of most famous mountains on earth – the Eiger

And to the left of the spectacle continues to impress. One could spend days, nay weeks absorbing the wonder of it all.

on foot

feet

We decided to poke about a bit and set off on foot.

Wanderweg Sign

Wanderweg Signage. Eiger behind sign

we went left

we went left towards the Wetterhorn

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ferien wohnung rental accomodation

and hiked up narrow climbing paved roadways, past idylic chalet settings bedeked with small to large cow bells, and hillside pasture used by goats with jangling bells. We also saw several signs advertising ‘Alpen cheese’ for sale. This is where it gets silly. We packed a lunch, a good lunch because things are esspensivo in the Switzer Lands. Hell, we even packed a chunk of Gruyere cheese but then couldn’t resist the urge to buy more cheese at one of the local shops along with a Swiss air cured beef specialty to add to our packed lunch; of which we only ate the bread. On our meandering way back towards town and the gondola ride upwards to the First peak, we stopped and sat on a bench at a small old barn for a rustic lunch in the sunshine with a view on the Eiger.

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lunch spot

view towards Grindelwald from lunch spot

view towards Grindelwald

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more valley view

On our way back to town we heard some odd noise that clashed violently with the stillness of this alpine idyll, a loud reverberating roar that bounced out of the blue sky and off the mountainsides above and behind us.  Two Swiss airforce fighter jet aircraft were engaged in close  maneuvers, a tight circling airborne dance lest they fly or rocket out of bounds (Switzerland being smallish in size). The country has a strong and clear sense of defense. On our journey there we saw two individual soldiers in full gear including the rifle slung in front of the body with folded stock,a reminder that this folk is prepared, willing and ready to defend at a moments notice it seems. Actually we had wanted to hike up to the First peak (2168m above sea level) but were told that since the recent ski season had wrapped up not too long ago that conditions on the upper hiking trails were ‘difficult’ and for the most part closed. Ok, gondola time. With our special travel day pass we scored half price tickets and hopped into a small four person gondola for the (much to our uniformed surprise) half hour trip up to the peak from 1034m in Grindelwald.

gondoling up to the First from Grindelwald

gondoling up to the First from Grindelwald, Schreckhorn 4075m

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Eiger 3970m center image

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Finsteraarhorn 4274m above the valley floor

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Schreckfeld gondola station, turns 90º and heads up the last little stretch to the First.

author way above sea level

author way above sea level

We hung out a bit up there, soaked up the brutal sunshine, ate a few of our packed goodies, ordered something to drink and headed back down to the Bort gondola station at 1570m from the First  From there we decided to hike back down the rest of the way to town because it was such a beautiful day and after all we’d wanted to hike in the first place.

hiking down towards Grindelwald

hiking down towards Grindelwald

alpine spectacle

alpine spectacle

idyllic scenery

idyllic scenery

Edelweiss flower info The day after: our legs are a bit sore, our exposed skin got burned, our spirits are lifted and the memories rock. Go visit off season, it’s less busy 😉

The Switzer Land, it might be small, but it's really big too.

The Switzer Land, it might be small, but it’s really big too.

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Three Days in Budapest & riding the retro metro

It was wet, grey, tiring and dingy in places. Not at all the way I’d imagined a January. I imagined it colder, much colder. However that is the kind of weather that awaited my wife and I on a recent short city holiday into Hungary. Budapest to be exact.

A cheapo Easy Jet flight three nights including breakfast at a reasonable price in a well situated and well appointed Hotel in the midst of that large city was just the thing.

Budapest as seen from a higher vantage point on the western side of the river Danube

Budapest as seen from a higher vantage point on the western side of the river Danube

Not that the weather where we live on the German side of the Swiss/French border was any better as we were herded through the airport gate like so much documented cattle. It could have been worse, much worse. The city could have been held in the frosty clutches of mean old man Winter. But it was not. And so a little bit of wet weather didn’t seem all that depressing when we stepped out into the Hungarian rain for the first time.

We arrived mid afternoon and  it being a Sunday and us not having planned anything touristically urgent as far as activities go, we located our hotel via our helpful little and later much used city/map book and my suddenly in demand sense of direction (albeit a bit confused with having to read/decipher a new language neither one of us was face with before). Then we set off and rather embarrassingly our very first jaunt  took us to a pretty big mall. Say no more, say no more.

January darkness fell more rapidly than we had anticipated and as the rain had let up a bit, we took advantage to look at the city lights from Margit Hid bridge over the dark Danube at the southern tip of Margaret Island. Nice.

View of Hungarian Parliament building on the bank of the Danube from bridge

View of Hungarian Parliament building on the bank of the Danube from bridge

going down to the retro metro on the transit escalator; we also went up these escalators towards daylight

Going down to the retro metro on the transit escalator; we also went up these escalators towards daylight

Very glad to have a guidebook/map along for this trip. Knowing and figuring out exactly where we were or exactly where we wanted to be/go wasn’t all that much fun all the time but it certainly made getting around easier. The locals we approached were very helpful when asked for assistance in either German or English. Thanks kindly you friendly Budapestians.

tourists looking at map books and waiting for transit salvation

Tourists looking at map books and waiting for transit salvation

There were tips on good eats in the guide booklet at several, actually two indoor market halls where various delectables from all over could be sampled and I had set my mind and stomach for an afternoon stroll of deliciousness in silly proportions/portions. I was really looking forward to the culinary experience and the usual list of local eats such as goulash and … well, goulash was the only culinary dish I knew of. But we were open to new things too. After wandering down a canyon of tourist shops lining the Vaci Utca;

One of the lesser shopping display along the Vaci Utca

One of the lesser shopping displays along the Vaci Utca

…pretty much all of them selling pretty much the same wares. Hmmm. At the end of that Utca we suddenly came upon the Nagycsarnok or Central Market Hall. Halleluja I thought; well maybe not thought so much as I felt something akin to that expression as we pushed our way through the heavy dirty darkish green woolen curtain flaps that separated the winterish outside from the warmish interior. Let the fun begin.

Inside the Central Market Hall where disappointment bit me in the ass.

Inside the Central Market Hall where disappointment bit me in the ass.

One stall sold fresh and colorful vegetables, the next sold honey, various sized bags of Paprika both sweet and hot along with different alcoholic souvenir bottles along with nuts, dried fruits and trinket sized wooden scoop spoons. Along the lines of ‘Souvenir’ accoutrement. Noted. The next stall sold meat: poultry, pork, beef, various cuts and meats in differing states of deconstruction depending on what the butcher was doing. These stalls also stocked huge supplies of the ‘Pick’ salami that I also was keen on purchasing to take back and sample in the comforts of home. These salamis came in different sizes and the different stalls appeared to apply differing prices for these same wares, depending on where they were located in the hall. The wife made note of that fact. Nevertheless we bought some. In a nutshell, a large market hall with many stalls but all stalls basically selling the same things. And upstairs arranged around the outer walls, more stalls with traditional embroidery and more tourist trickery. Bummer. The whole thing could have been condensed into four shops based on goods sold. Nothing for my belly other than a couple of excellent spicy dried snack sausages. We did not go into the basement for further my disappointment.

National Spice of Hungary is Paprika ... ok, so these samples had collected a lot of dust over the course of many years of being window displays.

National spice of Hungary is Paprika … ok, so these samples had collected a lot of dust over the course of many years of being window displays.

iphoneography©2014,myronunrau©2014

Nope … didn’t eat here. Why not? Well, the name implied certain culinary danger. No matter that the hustler out on the street touted the menu to be “just like your mother home food”.

We did however stumble across the ‘Strudelhaus‘ on October 6 Utca. Wow, who knew Strudel could be so good. This restaurant also offers other traditional Hungarian fare but we spoiled our appetites with mouthwatering late afternoon goodness. Absolutely recommend this establishment for a delightful and very tasty visit.

Below is a sample of the sights and personal impressions:

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Parliament building besieged by constructionism

Solitary tower view point overlooking Budapest

One of the towers of the Fishermans Bastion overlooking Budapest

Bronze Aged Police

Bronze Aged Police on Zrinyi Utca/Oktober 6 Utca. Budapest

Wooden restaurant facade

Wooden restaurant facade on Vaci Utca

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Post christmas blues in the city

from there to here (camera viewpoint)

Rokford restaurant on the corner of Honved St and Szalay St. Didn’t eat there either.

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Seriously guarding the Hungarian Presidentat Sandor Palota

Looking across the Danube river  (beside the 'Chain Bridge')

Looking across the Danube river beside the Széchenyi lánchíd or Chain Bridge

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Detail of historical graphic context

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The unintended monumental asphyxiation of statues in an unnamed square somewhere in downtown Budapest

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Two tram cars as seen from Vemezo Way

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Yup Unicum … tastes exactly like ZWACK

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Still in rail service to the nation at Nayugati Railway Terminal

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Lonely morning street with retro VW bug

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Cool colors and wheels

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Dekagrams of decadent goodness

We can imagine how Budapest might look like in spring time.

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tired tourist feet

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Good’bye’ Budapest. Thank you kindly for the hospitality.

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wrong-way adventures on the M3 Blue Line to get to the airport

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Captain, please start this engine for takeoff

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Charming Stuff from Days Gone By or “Scheiss Chanderli!”

It’s a Sunday morning. Well, outside anyways. Inside I’m still in bed, my head full of dreamy bits, my body asleep and relaxed. It’s not early, it’s not late. A relatively quiet time. Even asleep I can sense the quieter Sunday morning solitude  and I enjoy the abbreviated traffic noises from the main road that cuts through this village through the open window of my bedroom.

On weekdays the traffic noises begin to build around 04:30 and I’m certain most of that early morning rush is bakers on their way to their trades but on Saturdays and Sundays it is relatively calm out there.

What the hell am I writing about? I’ll tell you. It’s the Kandertalbahn.  Go look it up on Facebook if you want. They have a page. It is an old steam driven railway line that runs the same stretch back and forth every Sunday for tourists, the curious and hobbyists from the first day of May all the way through the 20th day of October.

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Yes it’s quaint, it’ pretty, it’s historic, it’s old, it’s in working condition, it brings in money and tourists, but it also is loud and irritating to many who live along its iron line.

Between Wagons

Between Wagons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Sure, it’s lovely to see something from days gone by, watch something like that chugging  back and forth, forwards and backwards along track through a picturesque, lush and fertile bucolic valley landscape of farm fields, small quaint villages that lie 2 or so kilometers apart from the next and green capped forested hills. What’s not to like about that?

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Bucolic southern German landscape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
No argument there, but sorry no, I’ve not ridden it yet; not when I lived here as a teen nor since I’ve been back. In fact I was planning to do that this summer but that urge shrivels on my ‘things to do’ list every time that shrieking noise makes me cringe, six times every Sunday. And the worst of it is that sometimes I wish that I could somehow prevent that blasted whistle from issuing it’s evil sound. No surprise though that if I lived further away from the tracks I wouldn’t really give a rats ass what kind of noise that train made but what I’m afraid of is that if I were to visit somewhere else and heard such a whistle, I might believe it to be sunday.

©2013myronunrau

Light Detai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What gets me and what I can’t get my head around is that this is Germany after all, a peace and quiet loving folk. They are known to enforce the Sabbath strickly where naught is done around the house if it makes any kind o f ‘working’ noise on the Lords day; one does that on Saturday. It’s not like N. America, not at all. But that damned infernal noise is apparently ok. Go figure.

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I just heard the last shrill whistle blast of the day, for this whistle stop.

Now I get to listen to the receding if still muffled and audible whistle blasts as the  loathsome Chanderli chuggs its metal way back to Kandern to await for its next weekends annoying assault on many ears. Frustratingly I just now realize that I still have two months of Sundays to get through. Grrrr …

 

Playing the Tourist Card

Heidelberg a very old and romantic city, also very easy on the eyes; the old part that is. That was one of the reasons running through my head when I formed the idea to visit there with my daughter who was visiting Europe/Germany for the very first time.It’s a city in Germany. You may have heard of it. It’s kind of popular with the tourist crowd. It’s also renowned amongst the academically minded for it’s institutions of higher learning. Heidelberg is Germanys  oldest university town.

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rail lines

Driving there from here was not an option as although there is a rapid route of travel known as the Autobahn here in Germany, it is also plagued with congestion issues that do not make for rapid travel as one would reasonably expect. Instead we opted for the logical alternative, the train. Even that option offers various modes from the normal commuter train to the high speed ICE experience. In this Bundesland/state/province of Baden Württemberg rail tourism is encouraged with discounted tickets offered at attractive prices (on the normal trains). For those with deeper pockets and less time the highspeed rail transit costs considerably more. We did the math and picked the rediculously low cost return ticket for two persons at 26 Euros as compared to the nearly 200 Euros for the high speed option.

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train waiting

The drawback to cheap travel are certain restrictions such as not being able to ride until 09:00 (a civilized time to begin anything), however when one considers the nearly four hour travel time to get to Heidelberg and adding in the equally long return trip and realizing the remaining available time between arrival and departure if one doesn’t want to get home too late, things begin to feel compressed.

Add to that that I forgot to take a look at Google Earth to see how the city was laid out. Erroneously I had assumed that Heidelberg might be similar to Freiburg (im Breisgau) ala step off the train, walk out of the train station and straight into the interesting bit of the city. I was wrong in that assumption, ill prepared and as blind as a wide eyed tourist set adrift in a strange new place.

In short time we realized the error of our pedestrian ways and jumped onto the next available bus in hopes of getting to the good parts of town quicker. With success. And only a vague feeling of confusion. But we had to make a choice, would we try to get to see the Schloss (romantic castle) or check out the ‘Alt Stadt’ (old city). Time was like mercury, running out if we were to keep our return schedule. Not a fun situation to be in when there is lots of cool things to see and I tried as best as I could to banish the thought that this little sightseeing jaunt was going to turn out to be a long train ride with a stop-over in Heidelberg.

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Heidelberg castle above the academy sciences

As fortune would have it the rail line up the the castle was broken (technical issues we were told). That decided things for us and we relaxed and took it easy as we strolled the narrow streets of the old town on our way to the picturesque bridge spanning the Neckar river. From there we got a lovely touristy view of the castle up on the hill and mingled with the new invading hordes/tourists from nearly every corner of the globe.

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tourist in orange

Honestly, I don’t much care for being a ‘tourist’ but no matter how I look at it, even though I live in Germany, I am a tourist when it comes to seeing new places. It can’t be helped I’m afraid.

We spent our time enjoying ourselves and after viewing the typical sights without wasting the little time we had, we stopped into an quaint old Brauhaus for something to eat and some local beer. As the tables along the front outside in the laneway were all occupied we sat inside with a view to the outside. The unexpected surprise of this lunch stop was a beer with the insane alcohol content of 33% touted as the strongest beer in the world.  A rather sweetish treat on a warm day.

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Vetter 33 beer

The rest of our remaining time was spent walking back to were we left the first bus that dropped us off at Universitaets Platz (not my own video; voice is not myself).

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retro tour guide Heidelberg style

Just  thinking about our return rail trip makes me tired and suffice it to say that you should take more than three hours to visit this charming city to really absorb some of the atmosphere and sense of it all. We rather enjoyed it and would gladly come back.

But we would want to do it without the three train there and three train back bit. To say that we were tired when we got home that night would be an understatement.

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tired feet

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Way Back Machines

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Retro Rail
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Retro Rail Color