Saturday, October 7, 2017

Western Europe: Mosel, Rhine, Black Forest, Alsace and Switzerland in 24 days

Here's the recap of travel, or rather it serve as an index page for easier tracking.

Breakdown of travel days and links to accommodations.

Belgium: Antwerp
Day 1: Lazing my day away in Antwerp before ending the night in Gent

Belgium: Gent
Day 2: Walkabout Gent before attending K&M's wedding
Day 3: Slept my day away but woke up for lunch and dinner... food is important.

Luxembourg / Germany
Day 4: A walk in the Grund and spending the night in a castle on Mosel.

Germany: Mosel
Day 5: First day in Cochem and a day trip to Beilstein
Day 6: Cabbing to Burg Eltz and hiking back
Day 7: The story book like Bernkastel-Kues and ended with Traben-Trarbach

Germany: Rhine
Day 8: On a Rhine River cruise from Boppard to Bacharach
Day 9: Day trip to St Goar, Oberwesel and Koblenz

Germany: Heidelberg
Day 10: A 'stopover' at Heidelberg

Germany: Black Forest
Day 11: First stop in Black Forest - Gutach
Day 12: Charming towns in Black Forest - Alpirsbach, Schiltach and Triberg
Day 13: Another amazing town in Black Forest - Gengenbach
Day 14: Unfruitful commute to Baden-Baden and Germany's sunniest city, Freiburg
Day 15: The two lakes around Black Forest - Titisee and Schluchsee

France: Alsace
Day 16: Enjoying the beautiful Colmar
Day 17: Riquewihr, Hunawihr and Ribeauvillé on the Route des Vins d'Alsace
Day 18: Strasbourg on a Sunday

Day 19: Luzern in a day
Day 20: Classic Rigi Round Trip and travelling to Gimmelwald
Day 21: Jungfraujoch, the top of Europe
Day 22: Gimmelwald, Mürren and Lauterbrunnen plus Zermatt
[Note: Gimmelwald, Mürren and Lauterbrunnen were done across day 20 to day 22]
Day 23: Last day in Zürich plus Rheinfall

Side note: Hey Europe, thank you for being awesome. May we meet again soon. :)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Western Europe: Switzerland - Rheinfall and Zürich

Initially I had the bright idea of crossing the border to get to Liechtenstein for half a day and spend the remaining half in Zurich. I don't have any other days left as I fly out the next morning. After much googling and checking on train connections, it proved a little too time consuming and hectic to execute. I would most probably ended up be too tired and not see any of Zürich. On top of that, I actually had to take a train at 6 am which means getting up way before that. I guessed it was probably too ambitious of a plan. Hahaha.

In lieu of the ambitious plan, I "settled" on Rheinfall, perhaps also to compensate on sitting out on Triberg Falls and the on in Gimmelwald. Rheinfall was stunning and most likely higher than both of the falls that I didn't get to see. It was a much more relaxing trip of taking the train to Neuhausen Rheinfall and out from Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall. Both stations are near the falls.

There were a few different companies offering services to get nearer to the falls, including a stop at the tall rock in the middle of the falls. I walked around the waterfalls to the back as that would also bring me back to a train station.

The walk involves some steps climbing, these were pretty mild actually and along the way to the train station, I was rewarded with more waterfall views.

After departing Rheinfall, I headed to Zürich. I mostly walked around the old town area and found myself at the Lindenhof square. It was fairly quiet at mid afternoon but someone was playing the giant chess set.

From this square, it gives a nice view across the river towards Niederdorf.

Walking down from Lindenhof, I walked pass St. Peter Church, the one with a large clock face.

From there I walked to Fraumünster church and visited this church which was famous for its glass windows. The choir of the abbey includes 5 large stained glass windows designed by artist Marc Chagall and installed in 1970. Photography is not permitted in the church, so I didn't take any.

After that I just continued my slow stroll down the river.

It was my last night of my holiday. I tried to at least have a good sit down dinner at each place and given Switzerland's expensive living expenses I haven't had any but as it would be my last meal, I walked in to a random restaurant and had an early dinner. I had my dinner at Zeughauskeller and ordered Kalbsgeschnetzeltes nach Zürcher Art (panfried sliced veal and mushrooms in creamy white wine sauce) served with potato rosti.

It was pretty good but with the money I paid for it I really wished it was much more sensational... because it was fr. 36.50. Oh well, it was Zürich.

Since I had a good meal, might as well go all the way and get some dessert too. I'm terrible I know, have no self control over food. I bought some Luxemburgerli from Sprüngli. Luxemburgerli is a mini version of macaron but more airy.

I didn't stay in Zürich city but near to Zürich Oerlikon station, it is about 10 minutes train ride from Zürich and also about 10 minutes train ride from the airport, of course depending on which train you jumped on. It makes the accommodation ended up much cheaper as well. Courtyard by Marriott Zurich North was excellent. Grin.

Side note: Next public holiday would be the Melbourne Cup in November. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Western Europe: Switzerland - Zermatt

On the day I visited Zermatt, I had already shifted from Gimmelwald to Interlaken, which meant that my holiday was coming to an end soon. Zermatt because I wanted to see Matterhorn, yes, the symbol on the chocolate brand, Toblerone. Grin.

As I have gone up Jungfraujoch the day before, I stayed around in Zermatt. Most of the trains in Switzerland come with huge window to maximise the view, pretty cool. :)

I did a walk around Zermatt and continued on towards Matterhorn. Whilst I didn't take the cable car up or even hike all the way it was a good walk.

It was pretty much rest and relax. Usual meals were from supermarket but I treated myself to some good Swiss praline from Läderach.

Oh I've also found the cheapest Lindt chocolate in Zermatt, not sure if coincidentally on sale when I was there but the Lindt shop retail price in Zermatt where even cheaper than supermarket price. Of course being on "home ground" there were much more options on offer.

Then I was back to Interlaken to call it a night.

Side note: Oik, I forgot tomato sauce for my sweet and sour pork dish.. haha

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Western Europe: Switzerland - Gimmelwald, Mürren and Lauterbrunnen

Gimmelwald was my base in Bernese Oberland area. This little village is so small that the nearest Coop shop is in Mürren. It sounded pretty glamorous to say that I needed to take a cable car to do my grocery shopping but that was how it was. There is a little shop that sell cheese, dried sausages, beef jerky, eggs, etc but a proper grocery shopping is in Mürren.

I stayed in Gimmelwald Mountain Hostel for 2 nights. Initially I planned to stay for 3 nights but I wanted to shave an hour off my commuting time to make it possible to get to Liechtenstein though it didn't happen and I ended up spending my last day in Zurich. Anyway, instead of the 3 nights, I moved 1 night to Interlaken due to convenience of transportation. Even though I am ok staying in hostel room I tried to pick the ones with lesser people in one room. The girls only dorm fits 16 person in a room, so I picked the family room which has 3 bunks beds, accommodating 6 pax. The location is great but I personally find it a little too intimate especially in the peak of summer when the hostel is full. There really isn't any quiet nook in the hostel because of the spaces vs human ratio. Err but of course, I admit my "anti-social" streak is quite strong.

I wandered around the village and attempted to do a walk to see a waterfall, Chilchbalm (Talkessel mit Wasserfällen). I said attempt because I didn't manage to get there, I wonder if I have missed a turn or completely off the grid but despite indication of less than 1 hour on the walking map, I didn't reach the destination. I did however made it to the Schiltbach (Schlucht mit Wasserfällen) and parts of the stream.

Gimmelwald is only one cable car station away from Mürren so I was in Mürren pretty often.

The vibes in Mürren is similar to Gimmelwald, serene and beautiful but slightly larger village. There were quite a few paragliders in the area. I bet view from the air is spectacular. I met a pilot who does paragliding as a hobby who urge me to consider trying my hands on it. I might, one day but maybe when I wasn't alone in a foreign country when I have zero experience. Don't trust myself to handle it properly. :P

I have initially wanted to do an easy short trail in Mürren but after spending extra time on the train the day before, I was little short on time. Haha. The comment of "difficulty: easy" and duration of 1 h 30 min was quite tempting and definitely feels doable. Well, that was what was listed in the guide pamphlet given to me when I checked in to the hostel.
1. Mürren - Blumental - Allmendhubel
Difficulty: easy
Time: 1 h 30 min., Difference in altitude: +269 m
2. Mürren - Winteregg-Grütschalp
Difficulty: easy
Time: 1 h 30 min., Difference in altitude: -152 m

I did, however, found a little shop that sells some postcards and magnets that are slightly cheaper comparatively to what I saw elsewhere. Note only by comparison because they are still expensive.

If you noticed the reflection on the above photo, that's because I took them from the cable car. A lot of my Lauterbrunnen view were from the cable car. Haha.

Lauterbrunnen is nestled deep in the valley of 72 waterfalls. After getting out of the Lauterbrunnen train station, one would already noticed some of the waterfalls, especially Staubbach Falls.

Side note: Do you know that Bern is the capital city of Switzerland?

Friday, September 29, 2017

Western Europe: Switzerland - Jungfraujoch, Top of Europe

I was indecisive between going up to Jungfraujoch or Schilthorn. As I was staying in Gimmelwald, it would make more sense to go up Schilthorn given the geographical logic as well as monetary reason.

It will take me less than 30 minutes on a single cable car ride to get there from Gimmelwald whereas getting to Jungfraujoch takes about 2 hours.

Getting to Jungfraujoch from Gimmelwald involves the commute of
Gimmelwald - Stechelberg (cable car)
Stechelberg - Lauterbrunnen (bus)
Lauterbrunnen - Kleine Scheidegg (train)
Kleine Scheidegg - Jungfraujoch (train)

As for the cost, I would get a 50% discount to get to Schilthorn (ooh, just googled and it looks like it could be free from 2018 with a Swiss Travel Pass, i.e. included in the Swiss Travel Pass price) but smaller discount to get to Jungfraujoch. I have no doubt Schilthorn would be amazing but the brain, or rather my brain isn't that logical all the time. Despite all that I chose to Jungfraujoch with a single reason that it would be a long time till I set my foot to Switzerland again (it is still too expensive!) so if I can only choose one, I'll close both eyes and pay for Jungfraujoch. I even paid extra to return via Grindelwald.

I set out in the morning and in my rush to not miss the cable car even though it was literally just outside the door from the hostel, I left my camera. I took out my camera to stuff in a scarf and a beanie thinking it could be cold and ended up leaving the camera out. I realised when I wanted to take some shots from the cable car (yes, even when I take the same route every day from Gimmelwald down to Stechelberg) and no camera in the bag. I could of course remain in the cable car and head back to retrieve it but it meant I would probably end up an hour later. I had my phone with me and the camera on my phone wasn't bad especially during day time so I decided not to go back for it. If I was still using my ancient iPhone4, it would probably be a different story. So all photos were taken using my s7 on that day.

View from both side of the windows were amazing but some said it is slightly better on the right side when you travel from Interlaken to Kleine Scheidegg via Lauterbrunnen. Of course in my case, the train ride was  just from Lauterbrunnen to Kleine Scheidegg. Trains towards Jungfraujoch was probably the most crowded compared to the other rides I took, I guess it is unavoidable as it is probably one of the most visited destination in Switzerland.

The train stopped briefly at Kleine Scheidegg and for about 5 minutes at Eismeer. Eismeer station sits at 3,160 metres above sea level. I didn't go down thinking that I would do that on my way down but the train didn't stop at this station on the way down, so do remember to get off the train to have a look.

Jungfrau region is presided over by glacier-encrusted monoliths Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. The other biggest reason why anyone goes up to Schilthorn was because of the spectacuar panorama of Swiss Skyline - Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Well, if you are up on Jungfrau, then you can't see Jungfrau on the skyline, right? ;)

Jungfraujoch is sitting at 3,454 metres and is the highest station in Europe. At Jungfraujoch station, there are "tour" signboards to lead you from one checkpoint to another. At the station hall, there is also a place where you can stamp your "Jungfrau Railways Passport" which was given together with the train ticket.

At the fourth "checkpoint", which is the Sphinx View Point one can see the overall view with signs indicating which peak you are looking at.

The next stop was my favourite, stop #5 - Aletsch Glacier (Snow Fun - Top of Europe). At this stop you can go out and walk to Mönchsjoch Hut instead of standing at a viewpoint.

There was flying fox thingy activity here if it is of any interest but I ended up taking a lot of photos from here. Don't forget to pack sunglasses and slapped sun block on yourself. It was glaringly bright. It wasn't hot and I didn't need my beanie or scarf that I packed which caused me to missed my camera. Pfft. I also forgot my sunblock but thank goodness for my boots and sunglasses! I didn't walk the whole way but maybe just 1/3 of it. It took a while to walk on the snow. In fact after the walk I felt much warmer compared to before.

One could also see the longest and most voluminous glacier in the European Alps, Aletschgletscher (Aletsch Glacier). It runs 23 km long and stretches from Jungfrau in the Bernese Oberland to a plateau above the Rhône.

At the last stop, there were some shops and one of them is Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven, which essentially is chocolate shop. Look at the chocolate sauce in the bowls, (especially the milk chocolate sauce), they looked so real but they are not! I didn't buy any chocolates here but the train conductor gave a free chocolate piece after checking the ticket on train.

I took the train to Grindelwald and got off at Grindelwald. The plan was to spend some time there but I didn't end up walking too far away. Then I had some unfortunate encounters with trains. Haha. Swiss train are generally efficient and on time but for some reason the train on scheduled to depart from Grindelwald was postponed due to technical error. No big deal as it wasn't too long of a delay... and Grindelwald is pretty as a picture.

All was well and I got on a train out of Grindelwald. I bumped into Mia who I met earlier on Jungfraujoch where she asked if I could help her take some photos. We chatted and she was heading back to Lauterbrunnen so we got off at Zweilütschinen for a change of train. The next train we got on was exceptionally warm but it was summer after all. Then came unfortunate train event #2, the train stopped. An announcement came up mentioned of some technical issue. A Swiss girl sitting across from us started talking to us. She has been taking the train since young as her grandmother lives in Grindelwald and that she is on her way to visit her. She said that she has never had any issues with the train.

Ahem. That was unfortunate train event #3. She was on the way to visit her grandmother who lives in Grindelwald and we were supposed to head to Lauterbrunnen away from Grindelwald. After sitting in the hot train for about 30 minutes with a lot of people running back and forth the train, the train started moving and brought us back to Grindelwald. Hahaha.

Mia and I got off the train in Grindelwald and got on another one. This one brought us to Zweilütschinen and this round we confirmed and reconfirmed the change of train did bring us to Lauterbrunnen. We parted ways and I continued onwards to Gimmelwald. I probably ended up spending an additional 2 hours to get back to Gimmelwald. I was going to go for a walk but it started raining soon after I got back. At least I wasn't caught in rain. Little win. :)

Side note: Do you know that the name Jungfrau comes from the former convent in Interlaken and its alp beneath the Jungfrau mountain?