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.


On Monday morning we bought day tickets (8 Ch, all day on all types of transport), went into Zurich city centre by tram and walked the streets of the old town. It took us all day to explore a few of the delightful old laneways on the east bank of the Limmat River and several on the west bank. There were surprises around every corner and I loved it all.

One lane opened onto a garden and I noticed a sign on one of the houses (above) stating that Lenin lived in the house in 1916/1917. Last night I read on the internet that his wife mentioned in her memoirs that they couldn't open the windows during the day because of the smell from the sausage factory nearby. It was all very pleasant when we were there. There were a lot of other plaques for important people elsewhere as well but I didn't recognise any of the names.

The first photo above was taken from a garden on the west bank called Lindenhof. Men were playing chess and petanque under the lime trees and because it's on a hill the view is magnificent.

As we walked back home from the tramstop we noticed a little Mercedes smart car parked very smartly. And see how you're allowed to park both ways in Europe? Why don't we do that in Aus?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Castles in the air

On the way back to Zurich on Sunday we visited two castles near Füssen in southern Germany near the Austrian border. The first is Hohenschwangau Castle.

King Maximilian II of Bavaria built Hohenschwangau (High Swan) Castle from 1832 to 1837 and was the summer residence of the family. It is still used by family but the main rooms are open to the public every day. We were shown some very elaborately decorated living rooms and bedrooms, a piano used by Wagner when he visited and magnificent silver and gold table centrepieces gifted to the king by Bavarian titled families. It's a beautiful castle.

The second castle was Neuschwanstein Castle. Maximilan's son, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, also lived at Hohenschwangau Castle and built a new castle called Neuschwanstein (New Swan) Castle nearby. (Swans have a high symbolic significance in Bavaria.) Well actually, he half-built it - it wasn't finished when he died and as he was deeply in debt it was immediately turned into a museum. Here is a view of the new castle from the first one, and from a rest/information area just below the castle. Because Ludwig was such a fan of Wagner the second castle is deeply operatic in style.


This is the view from our bedroom window at Berchtesgaden!

From Innsbruck we had driven further east through the alps to Berchtesgarden in the Bavarian region south of Salzburg in Germany. It's a beautiful city, the buildings intricately decorated inside and out, religious icons and shrines everywhere, cobbled streets, lots of cafes and restaurants - and the mountains all around.

The bells were ringing as we walked though the streets on Saturday evening and we watched as a silent procession of priests and alter boys (dressed in white) and about 100 people of all ages moved through the street to the church.

And the farm houses and buildings are under one roof, the house up one end and the animals the other. It would have been interesting to do a guided tour of a farm.

In the morning Glenn took us to Dokumentation Obersalzberg, a purpose-built building on the site of Hitler's country retreat that became the second base for the regime's leaders. It consists mostly of panels with information, photos, maps, and graphics explaining the Nazi period with special emphasis on the area's role in the Nazi leaders’ lives. Under the building is the huge bunker complex consisting of kilometres of tunnels and rooms and a small section has been opened to the public. Usually it is possible to also see 'Eagle's Nest', the house commissioned for Hitler's 50th birthday, but the access road was closed for roadworks the day we were there. All of the documentation is in German but we had used an English audio guide. It was an emotionally exhausting museum but well worth a visit.

Then in the afternoon we went on a guided tour of an underground rock salt mine that has been in operation since 1515. We were dressed in protective overalls, taken underground on a wooden train, treated to a sound and light show as we boated across an underground lake and (most of us, not me) slid down several long wooden slides. It was all very interesting and would be a great spot for families as well.

To complete the day we went to Königssee, a beautiful glacial lake, the third largest in Germany, and walked to a viewpoint. To maintain its clean image only rowboats, pedal boats and boats with electric motors are allowed on the lake so even though we saw boats it was very quiet, except in the street leading to the lake which is full of noisy tourist shops and tourists.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Today Sarah and Glenn have gone to work and we are having a rest day - although sometimes resting feels like hard work because we have just returned from a walk to the local shopping centre where we managed to do just three things: a) find a hole in the wall so we could get some Swiss francs - we only had euros
b) spend some francs on a salad roll and a coffee - luckily the girl serving us spoke English
c) spend some more francs on some items in the supermarket - we managed to annoy the checkout chick by not pre-weighing our fruit and veg

We've had a fantastic weekend in the Bavarian alpine region of Germany about five hours east of Zurich. Glenn was able to interpret for us but that became increasingly more difficult because he lost his voice completely (the remnant of a cold), and Sarah wasn't with us because she had to work on Friday. The funniest was Phil trying to explain that he just wanted a mug of hot water - no coffee, no tea, no lemon. The first attempt resulted in a glass of tepid tap water.

On Friday we headed out on a motorway that followed Lake Zurich and then along various valleys, several toll points, border checkpoints and through numerous tunnels to Innsbruck. The longest tunnel was about 15 kms long. The snow-capped mountains were astonishingly beautiful.

We had lunch in the centre of Innsbruck, the capital city of the Tyrol region of Austria. Traffic is excluded from the narrow streets, cafes abound and we wandered through the town and along the river admiring the lovely old buildings. It suffered badly from bomb attacks in WW2 but the old town looks great today and is a popular destination because of festivals and winter sports as well. I was sorry to leave.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A change of plans

Have you been hanging out to hear the next installment of our adventure? Well the news is that we are now in Zurich :)

In Dublin yesterday morning we learned that our flight had been cancelled so we left our bags at the hotel near the airport, took our car back and went to see what we could do. We were in good company - lots of other travellers were doing the same thing. We were in a queue but had to wait less than an hour to talk to a friendly person on the desk who told us that we wouldn't get to Zurich before Sunday. I suggested Milan as a change of destination - no, we couldn't get there until Friday. I suggested Venice - no, booked out. I suggested Brussels - yes, we could get on a flight that afternoon. Thankyou.

So we took the hotel's shuttle bus back to our room, jumped onto the internet to book a hotel room in Brussels, packed and headed back to the airport to check in. We were in Brussels by 8.30 pm. I think we were lucky that we were only mildly inconvenienced - we've spoken to a lot of people in the last few days who have some horror travel stories to tell.

So then we had to get from Brussels to Zurich. Trains were an option, fast (expensive) and slow (cheap but a great way to see the countryside), and we probably could have shopped around for a flight (one quote we were given was about $800, each!), but we were able to get a hire car at a good price because it needed to be taken back to Zurich. Phil has never driven on the 'wrong' side of the road but we had our ever-reliable Tom Tom with European maps already installed and seven hours later we were in Zurich. So now I can say I've been to Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Switzerland.

Apart from seeing Glenn and Sarah sooner rather than later, the reason we wanted to get to Zurich before Friday is that G & S are taking a day of work and we're going to Austria for the weekend. For a while there it looked like it wasn't going to happen but tonight we booked our hotel and we head off in the morning.

Yawn! I'm off to bed. Too much excitement for this old chook.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Volcano fallout

We've driven back to Dublin and will return our car tomorrow (Wednesday). Then we decide whether to stay until the planes are in the air again or go to Zurich by train and ferry. Tonight we heard that UK is in business again so hopefully Dublin will be soon as well. (Dublin's not a bad place to be stuck in mind you. It could have been worse.)

In the footsteps of giants

This morning we had a look at a section of the north coast of Ireland, including the Giant's Causeway. It's under the control of the National Trust so we were able to use our Australian NT membership card again. The north-west wind (the one blowing all that ash our way) was blowing strongly so we had to rug up but the sun was shining. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a fascinating place - I'm glad we went to see it.

The whole of that coastline is wild and the local folk, particularly in the past, must have been tough to make a living by the sea. We visited the little coastal village on White Park Bay, just west of Giant's Causeway, driving down a serpentine road to get to the harbour. We expected to find just a harbour but there were houses right on the rocks. It's a pity a photo can't show the wind and wind chill and the noise of waves crashing.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

McKernan country

One more, and final, family history entry. (No, Wesley, we don't have any ancestral connections in Switzerland!)

We went to a narrow river valley just south of Londonderry to see where the McKernans lived in the 1800s. Daniel McKernan and his siblings came from a small area east of Plumbridge called Glenroan. There are still McKernans in the area. Daniel, the grandfather of Phils's Grandpa Phelan, selected land at Balmattum north of Euroa.

Daniel's uncle John Gibson was already in Balmattum. He was a brother of Daniel's mother and came from another valley just to the north of Glenroan near a village called Claudy.

Tourists in Eire

We've been tourists in Eire, visiting the Copper Coast (I'm constantly amazed at how close to the cliffs the paddock boundaries are), Blarney Castle where we joined the queue on a steep spiral staircase (I wasn't comfortable) and the Lee Valley.

Then we went to the Ring of Kerry and the Cliffs of Moher. See how blue the skies are? We couldn't have had a calmer week. Everyone we meet tells us how unusual the weather is.