Saturday, May 8, 2010

Today we arrived home

Our plane landed this morning at Tullamarine half an hour early, luggage was unloaded promptly and we zipped through customs in no time so we thought we'd have to wait for our friends, the Triggs, who had offered to meet us. So it was a lovely surprise to see them as soon as we walked through the door.

We're home but not really functioning on all cylinders today - it was a long flight home, with only a two-hour break at Incheon Airport in Korea. We're very sluggish and trying to stay awake until tonight so we can get our body clocks back into the right time zone.

So this is the final update to 'Boobook explores Europe'. I've had fun doing the blog and thanks for all your comments along the way.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Today we leave Switzerland

Schweiz, auf wiedersehen.

Back to the past

A short train trip from Interlaken along the lake to Brienz and a short bus trip and we were at the Open Air Museum (Freilichtmuseum) at Ballenberg. If ever you're in the area make sure you don't miss it.

We were there the whole day and we only saw a quarter of it - it's so large (66 hectares) and there's so much to see. It's a bit like Sovereign Hill in Ballarat in that they have more than one hundred century-old buildings from all over Switzerland, farmyard animals (including cows wearing their noisy bells), old-time gardens and demonstrations of crafts. The buildings are arranged in regional styles and we could wander in and out to see the furnishings and architecture. Each building has a descriptive sign (in English). We saw cheese-making, pottery (he was wearing a traditional cap), bee-keeping (with mirrors underneath so we could see the bees working) and weaving (on a 200-year old machine) and there were many more we couldn't see. It is still early in the season so we didn't see the costumes, markets and dance demonstrations but on the other hand we missed the big crowds so we were able to have a really good look. It was one of the highlights of our trip. Then we travelled back to Zurich via Lucerne, a beautiful trip, some of it on a rack railway.

A valley in the alps

Interlaken, in central Switzerland, is a tourist hot spot so we booked a room and went down to have a look. The weather has been dismal all week and we knew that it was unlikely to improve while we were there but as it turned out we had a fantastic two-day experience.

First we had to get there - we went by train, changing at Berne, and it took less than two hours. It was a good trip because the trains are so comfortable and quiet (apart from an American in the next seat who didn't stop ear-bashing his companions). We left our bags in a locker at Interlaken Ost rail station and headed up the valley to Mürren - we thought. The train conductor told us otherwise. "You are on the wrong train." He said it in a friendly way. "You must get out at the next station and wait ten minutes for the next train. Push the red button on the station building to stop the train, go back one station then get on the right train." So we got off at Lutschental, pushed the button, waited ten minutes while we watched school children heading home for lunch, got on the train and went back to Zweilutschinen where we soon boarded the correct train. Our mistake cost us no more than 20 minutes!

So we were back on plan. Train up the valley to Lauterbrunnen, cable car up the mountainside to Grutschalp, train across to Mürren. We'd never been in a cable car before and given my vertigo problems I was a bit wary but it was great fun and the views were wonderful. But then we hit the cloud level so it was foggy at Mürren and we couldn't see up or down. The town is a stepping stone for the cable to the Schilthorn mountain top where there is a restaurant and a James Bond Museum and fantastic views of the alps - on a clear day. We saw the live webcam views from the top and decided not to go up. All we would have seen was more fog.

So we walked through the village to another cable car going down to Stechelberg in the valley. It was a lovely trip down - as we slowly emerged from the fog we could see the valley and waterfalls on the cliff beside us.

The next plan was to go by bus back to Lauterbrunnen but as we had plenty of time we decided to do the two-hour walk and I'm glad we did. We saw houses, local farms, animals and farm sheds up close, we saw high waterfalls and rocky cliffs and we followed a lovely river all the way back down the valley.


We successfully managed to negotiate the very efficient rail system and did a day trip to Schaffhausen. (A lady assured me that when a train is scheduled to leave at 3.59 it leaves at 3.59. She was right.) Schaffhausen, on the Rhine River near the border with Germany, is yet another beautiful Swiss town and we really enjoyed exploring the narrow streets, the castle and the church and cloister. We followed a printed walking guide which was excellent.

And for those of you complaining that none of the photos I've put up on this blog are of me, here's the one and only.

Another reason for going to Schaffhausen was a waterfall. The Rhine Falls (Rheinfall in German) are quite close to the town and are the largest in Europe. They're only 23 m high but quite wide and the amount of water going over the falls is awesome and noisy. It's obligatory to go by boat to an island in front of the falls and climb to the top, so we did.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Planes, trains and automobiles

It was raining, not a good day to go to a mountain top, so we went to Lucerne for the day because we wanted to see the Swiss Transport Museum. It's less than hour by train from Zurich. Lucerne has an old town area and town walls but we didn't see much of it because of the rain and time constraints. It has a covered wooden bridge with paintings on internal roof sections (most of the bridge was burnt in a fire a few years ago so some parts aren't exactly old) and there is a big lake as well. Lucerne would be on my list of places to go back and have a good look at.

You have to allow lots of time or a visit to the Transport Museum because there are so many hands-on activities, models and information boards about railways, air transport, boats, ferries, cable cars, hang-gliding, communications, bicycles, helicopters, space travel. Because it was a Sunday there were lots of families there and the children were loving it all. They made free use of bicycles and scooters available to get around quickly or to just play in the large open central area.

I'm not sure why I agreed to go with Glenn on the Flight Simulator but I have to admit it was fun, even though he rolled us upside down. At least we didn't crash like Phil and Sarah did.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Rattle and squeak

One of the fountains in Basel features the work of an artist who was born there, Jean Tinguely. It a very quirky piece of satirical nonsense with shovels scooping up water, a big sieve uselessly sieving and other pieces spraying water in all directions. It's a type of sculpture called metamechanics.

We also went to Museum Tinguely in Basel. There are dozens of mechanical sculptures by Tinguely that operate at the push of a button, with pieces of metal squeaking, rattling, groaning, crashing, thumping, rotating, flopping and whirring. It's a noisy and lively museum and a great delight for visitors of all ages. There were lots of families there the day we went. It's a cryptic, tragic, scary, funny, entertaining and thought-provoking exhibition in an interesting building by the architect Mario Botta.

A day in Basel

After a week of beautifully warm and fine weather the rain has arrived and hasn't stopped for two days, with more to come. It's more normal we're told.

When Glenn and Sarah first started living in Switzerland they lived in Basel and yesterday we all went there for the day -it's an hour's train trip from Zurich. The Rhine River flows through the centre of town and if you stood at the right spot you could see both Germany and France. The old medieval town was a delight to explore.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A garden in the city

On a hill in the centre of Zurich we found the Gessner-Garten. It's a botanical garden named after Conrad Gessner (or Gesner) who lived in the town in the 1500s. He was a naturalist and he published Historiae animalium (in five volumes) that is considered the beginning of modern zoology, He also established a herbarium and part of the Gessner-Garten is based on Gessner's own, with 50 medicinal plants (herbs and shrubs), used by 16th century's healers. We were shocked to see a Variegated Thistle Silybum marianum in the garden! It's a nuisance weed on our farm.

Keeping time

The Uhrenmuseum is a private collection of clocks and watches and to find it you have to go in to the Beyer shop in the most prestigious shopping street in Zurich, the Bahnhofstrasse (look for the big clock outside). The Beyer family has been in the watch and clock business since 1760 and the collection is one of the best in the world.

The labels are written in German but the items were beautifully arranged on chronological order and well lit. The friendly staff member gave us a published book that had an English explanation of some of the items, and she also set some of the automation clocks going for us. There were also several computer screens showing some of the clocks working and playing the sounds they make. We found the watch worn by Hillary when he climbed Everest, the smallest pendulum clock in the world (with the Guinness Book of Records certificate to prove it), old oil clocks, hourglasses, scientific clocks, fob watches, table clocks and pendulum clocks. The intricate workmanship was astonishing.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Lake Zurich

Lake Zurich is a major factor in the life of Zurich people. It's a very big lake, 29 kms long, and people live along the entire length. Houses, businesses, churches and train lines on the shoreline are backed by farms and forest further up the slopes.

The ferries are part of the public transport system and because yesterday was a fine and warm day we decided to go by ferry to Rapperswil, a town at the southern end of the lake. It was an interesting two-hour trip up the lake because it stops at about eight jetties and we saw how the locals use their ferries - playgroup outings, bike riders, grandparents with grandchildren and families - as well as tourists like us.

Central Rapperswil is an old medieval town complete with a castle on the hill and the narrow cobbled streets twist and turn. For the next four hours we explored the architecture of the town, went to Polish Museum in the castle (the Swiss have been sympathetic to Polish emigres over two centuries), walked on a historic boardwalk (nesting white swans and grebes were a delight) and took lots of photos. Mountains form a spectacular backdrop and the lake is ever present. We missed the best season - in June and July the thousands of roses are a real highlight - but it was a great town to visit in early spring as the trees are turning green and the flower boxes starting to bloom. The cemetery looked delightful as each grave is a carefully-tended garden of flowers.

After our two-hour trip back to Zurich (glassy water, sailing boats, mirrored scenery, fishing boats, sunshine and people-watching) we met Glenn and Sarah at the central railway station and they took us by train to Uetliberg mountain where there is a lookout. We arrived just before sunset so the snow on the distant mountains was catching last of the light and we could see the city and the lake we had just been on. We also watched a stream of  fit bike riders arrive having ridden up the mountain - some were hardly out of breath and others had found it hard work. Glenn and Sarah have often walked home from Uetliberg - it takes about an hour -  but we'd done enough walking for the day so we went by train and tram instead.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Zurich again

Museums were on the agenda today. There are over 40 in Zurich but we only went to three.

First, the Museum of Design (Museum für Gestaltung Zürich). They had two exhibitions, one on global design influences (on architecture, fashion, communication, shopping, industrial design) - think Ikea, Mars, PET plastic - and one on the use of Swiss motifs in poster advertising over the last century - think mountains, cows, cheese, red and white, white cross, chocolate. We enjoyed our visit to this museum.

Then we went to the Landesmuseum. We went particularly to see the history of Switzerland displays but, after we'd bought out tickets, we were told that that floor was closed. We thought we'd wasted our money but it turned out to be a fantastic place to explore for two or three hours. We saw an exhibition of the work of Swiss photographers over the last century and a half, we saw an excellent display of old coins presented with touch screen explanations of the designs and flip-side photos as well, we saw a table-top mockup of the Battle of Morat in 1476 using 6000 tin soldiers, we saw rooms full of arms, armour and uniforms of soldiers, costumes over the centuries, displays of religious embroideries, carved icons, painted glass and stained glass, alters and ceramics, shoes, silverware and more. It's a fantastic museum and the building was interesting as well..

And the third museum was a toy museum called Spielzeugmuseum, a collection put together by the owner of a local toy shop that's been in business since the 1800s. Yes there were dolls and doll houses but they were really old and elaborate, and there were antique trains, steam engines, puppets, stuffed animals, books, rocking horses and toy soldiers.

We've been down to the edge of the lake only once but it's such a dominant part of Zurich we'll probably go for a boat ride one day. And we've been to see a church, the Grossmunster - its long history is closely connected to the Swiss Reformation. The photo is from the church's cloister, a beautiful haven, another surprise in a city full of surprises - just open a big and heavy door and you're there.

More surprises - the stylish public phone booths come complete with defribrillation units, and Miss Hilton isn't the only young lady who carries her pet dog in a handbag.