July 22, 2011

The Bernina Express - Switzerland

And here I present finally, the last installment of my heavenly Swiss trip :)

The Bernina Express is a gorgeous big red train ( the kids call it the ' Toy Train' ) , luxurious seats and even a high tech toilet , I kid you not! It travels the Bernina Line which is now under The Unesco World Heritage Site. There are 2 places where you can take it from, both on the East of Switzerland, Chur and Davos.

We started from Chur ( there's only 1 train/ day per way from the 2 locations ), at 8.30am. It travels through little mountain villages and slowly makes its way up the Alps. From green pastures, the train slowly chuges along until we are face to face with ice age old glacier high up! The train runs on a single track so it takes its time but that has to be the most beautiful train ride I have ever taken. The route is a quiet deserted one, going through Alpine jungles, crossing high arc bridges over deep ravines, broken only by a few stalwart hikers, it is eerily silent ( picture the train that goes to Hogwarts, thats the scenery :) ) 

The red train taken from my window in the 1st Carriage as it goes through a circular viaduct !

A pond from a melting glacier some 2000m above sea level

The Bernina Line slowly makes its descent down into the valleys and makes its final stop in Tirano, which is on the border of Italy, a total of 4 hours. We hopped off and had some Italian pasta ( things were in Euro's again ) and hopped on the Bernina Express Bus that would take us back into Lugano, Switzerland. The bus travels through little Italian towns with its killer curves and narrow roads. Tip, those with motion sickness, so not recommended! But I sat right up front and had the most awesome view as the bus passes by the quaint towns and blue lakes, travel time 3 hours.

Lugano has the flair and taste of Italy but the price tag and efficiency of the Swiss ! Some call it heaven on earth, it is a beautiful touristy little town right on Lake Lugano. 

By the Lake Lugano

The view from Lugano Train Station 

Reservations for the Bernina Line and The Bernina Bus is Chf8 / person and is compulsory but thats all you need to pay if you have The Swiss Pass, details, here. If you don't want to take the bus back to Lugano, you can make a reservation to return on the Bernina Line to Chur, Davos or St Moritz or stop at the last Swiss stop which is Poschiavo and take the Swiss regional train to your next Swiss destination. From Tirano you would have to take the Italian train on which your swiss pass will not be valid. Note , there is only 1 Bernina Bus per day so make sure you have a reservation !

And there you have it, THE END. hope you enjoyed the pictures, but seriously, they don't do justice to the real thing, it is something that has to be seen and experienced to be believed :)

Till next time, signing off from me in windy rainy Rotterdam  :(

July 19, 2011

Bernese Oberland & Jungfrau- Switzerland

In the 3rd series of my Swiss trip :)

If you plan to travel by public transport in Switzerland, the best and most economical way is to take the Swiss Pass. This allows unlimited travel on all trains, busses and trams for the specified period. With the mountain trains, cable cars and boats you get a 25% to 50% discount, here's the site. Children up to 16 years go free if traveling with an adult, phew that was  a big help :)

The Golden Pass Line travels between Montreux (south) to Zweisimmen (central region) and from Interlaken Ost to Lucern (north) just 45 minutes by train south of Zurich. The Golden Pass trains have huge windows and really beautiful carriages. As you leave Montreux, you will be chugging along right beside Lake Geneva with its clear blue waters and as the train moves up into the mountains, the scenery changes to green rolling hills with typical swiss houses and cows grazing in the fields, huge christmas trees dot the landscape. A reservation of Chf5 per seat for the Golden Pass in advance is mandatory

Going up the mountain, bye bye Montreux

After changing to a regional train at Zweisimmen, we reach Interlaken Ost. This is essentially the main gate to the Bernese Oberland Region. I've managed to scan a local map below

From here, we made a trip to Jungfraujoch or Top Of Europe, it is the highest train station in Europe at 11,333 feet! If you refer to the map, you can go either of 2 ways, via Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald and from there a beautiful mountain train will take you up to Kleine Scheidegg, a really beautiful mountain resort. The return train ticket to Jungfraujoch costs Chf160 even after the Swiss Pass discount :(

We decided to go up via Lauterbrunnen, beautiful scenery as you chug up the mountain side, this side of the mountain is more wild and rugged and you can see small swiss chalets nestled in the mountains with a pile of wooden logs ready for the fire.

From Kleine Scheidegg 6762 Feet, the train will travel within a tunnel in the Alps for the remainder 5000 Feet in 30 minutes! You suddenly start to feel the cold and everyone in the train starts pulling on their long pants and fleece jackets. We emerge from the train at Jungfraujoch in a cave ! The Swiss have really made it into an amazing tourist spot, there's even an Indian Restaurant! We emerge into the blinding sunlight and onto pure white snow in the middle of June! There's snow on the Jungfrau 365 days a year, but at -3C it somehow felt chilled and hot at the same time, quite an experience. But for those with altitude sickness, not to be recommended, the thin air can really get to you. After 1/2 an hour of toboganning I was ready to sink into the snow, you feel extra tired being up so high. But it really was an amazing experience and a feeling like non other to be so high up in the Alps, felt like I could reach up and touch the sky.

Adam had problems adjusting to the altitude, poor him, luckily it took a few minutes.

Danny having such a blast going down the slopes :) 

Living my dream of being Heidi of the Mountains :) @ Kleine Scheidegg

Make sure you try to get back down not too late because the que in the dark cave can get very long and the train is only every 1/2 an hour, there were a few who fainted :( We went back down via Grindelwald, a more touristy swiss town compared to Lauterbrunnen with more hotels and restaurants but still very beautiful. We stayed in Wilderswil, a small town only a 4min train ride from Interlaken Ost and it was perfect, beautiful winding hiking paths and pretty chalets, I wished I could have stayed longer to walk on the mountains.

This area is the main tourist spot of Switzerland so be prepared for the over inflated prices, urghh. But so many awesome things are here, among those that I wished I had time to do :-
- Cruising on the Brienz Lake
- Taking the cable car at Murren
- Going up Schynige Platte
- Mountain climbing in the pretty alpine town of Wengen

InsyALLAH I will be here again :)

next stop : The Bernina Express

July 13, 2011

Montreux & Chillon Castle

Starts day two of our Swiss adventure !

I'd heard so much about Chillon Castle that we couldn't pass this by. Bought our train tickets ( 1hr trip return ticket is 56Chf ! , yeap I did say it was not cheap, but kids go free ) and had a beautiful train ride on the regional swiss train to Montreux. The train clatters by the Lake Geneva and you could see little white sail boats bobbing on the waters, I really wished I was one of those people on the boats then, so idyllic a life. Planning a train ride on any swiss train to any swiss destination is easy as pie, just click HERE. Key in your 'To' and 'From' and time and the list comes out. Be sure to click on the '+' icon on each option to see which platform the train leaves from. Beware, if it says 10.12am, 10.12 and 1sec, the train doors will not open, now thats Swiss Precision ! Change times between connections can be anytime between 5 to 15 minutes, so you better run for it :)

Montreux is a small resort like, french speaking part of Switzerland. Shops and hotels are next to the Lake's edge, a beautiful setting. Note : photos have not been tampered with :)

We took a beautiful boat ride that lasted 15 minutes to Chillon ( 16 Chf/pax, kids 1/2 price). You can even take the boat from Geneva, but it would take 3 hrs / way and cost around 58Chf / pax

And this is Chillon Castle or Chateau de Chillon from the boat. It's over 1000 years old and used to belong to the Lords of Savoy. It is actually on a small island a few metres from the mainland. A family ticket will cost 28Chf, but this is truly worth it. One of the things that the kids really enjoyed. Exploring the rooms and dungeons, climbing on the parapet, discovering how people of old went to toilet and had their bath :) I felt that I was in a Judith McNaught novel. They even have special days where the locals will play dress up and do enactments, wished could have seen that.

The Main Courtyard, everything was so well maintained

A damsel in the window :)

This is where they do their 'business' all those long years ago! Phew I'm glad I live in the era of sewage systems and flushing toilets! 

I think I would be content to live my life in a setting as beautiful as this, what do you think?

For more photos of this area, go here

Part 3, The Berland Obernese 

July 12, 2011

Switzerland, Land of Lakes & Mountains - Summer 2011

Hello hello, yes I'm here !!

Its summer holidays in Europe and the America's right now and everyone is just off hopping on the plane, ferry or train to cross visit other parts of Europe. We decided to do Switzerland and boy, that country is simply breathtaking. Took loads of pictures, between me and Mr J, 800 to be exact, it was just a picture postcard at every turn! The weather was on our side during the trip and except for 2 days in Lucern, it was glorious sunshine. Be warned, the next few posts will be full of photos and details of this gorgeous place, but I just had to share, so hope you enjoy and maybe as a reference point for future visits :)

We flew in by KLM to Geneva via Schipol Amsterdam, took only one hour and as we flew in I was practically hopping in my seat, the pilot had just announced that we would be seeing the Alps! My first sight and impression was of awe! It was high summer but the tops of the alps were covered in snow, they were majestic and imposing, silent and welcoming all at once, I felt humbled to be so near God's creation.

Geneva Airport is only 6 minutes by train to Geneva Central Station. At the baggage pick up , just before the green lane, there's a box that provides free train tickets to Geneva Central, take it ! From Geneve Aeroport Train Station, there are direct trains to all parts of Switzerland, very very easy. Geneva is the French speaking part of Switzerland. Its a beautiful city with the Lake of Geneva only 20 minutes walk from the train station. 

Lake Geneva with the Swiss Alps as the perfect backdrop

The famous fountain in the lake
Jet d'eau

The modern centre of Geneve

The Old Centre

And this is why Switzerland is spotless, pick up your own poop !

For more photos of Geneva, looky here

Food is easy in Geneva, there were more Chinese and Indian restaurants compared to others, just walk around Geneve Central Station. I keep complaining that Netherlands is expensive, Switzerland is twice that! A McDonalds meal for 5 will cost you 45Chf ( no happy meal please !) , a simple restaurant meal with drinks will set you back 90Chf! Don't worry though, all the major Banks are just around the corner :) Hmm , however I did not see Maybank.

Note: 1Chf  ( Swiss Franc) = 90c Euro

Next stop - Montreux and Chillon Castle !


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