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Splendors of Switzerland by Rail

 

Elderhostel Program 15879

 

August 17 - September 1, 2009

 

This travel adventure began with a flight to Philadelphia

from Binghamton.  Then a direct overnight flight to Zurich.

 

 

Upon arriving at the Zurich Airport, I was met by an

Elderhostel representative who lead our group of  10

other tour members to the railway station located at

the airport.  Above are pictured are our Elderhostel tour

guides for our two week train tour as they wait for our

train to Lucerne to arrive.

 

 

We will be riding on trains like the one at various

times during our stay in Switzerland.

 

 

The train ride from Zurich to Lucerne, our first three day

stop of the trip, was about one hour long with a stop first at the Zurich

downtown train station.  Upon exiting the Lucerne train station, I was

surprised to see hundreds of bicycles parked in front of the station.

 

 

The downtown Lucerne Central Post Office was near the train station.

 

 

Our first real challenge of the trip was the walk of some distance

to our hotel.  Lucky for our group we were able to send our

suitcases on ahead in a van.

 

 

This is the Hotel Royal our first stop of the trip, it was fairly close

to downtown and comfortable.  We also had our meals in the

dining room of the hotel. Our first full day, was spent resting

and doing some limited sightseeing.  We had a trip briefing

before dinner where we learned about the schedule of the tour. 

We also got to know our fellow companions for the tour.

 

 

Wednesday, August 19, greeting us with early morning sunshine on nearby

Pilatus Mountain across the Lake Lucerne.  It was a bit hazy this morning.

 

First thing in the morning we had two lectures by a local newspaper

reporter about Switzerland and it's Geography and Culture, the second

lecture was about the Swiss Transportation System.  Both lectures were

interesting and well presented.  Our next activity of the day, was a

local tram ride to the nearby Swiss Transportation Museum.  We had

lunch there and a formal tour of the museum railway collection.  It was a

terrific museum with excellent exhibits.  It was a dream location for

kids, with lots of hands on activities.

 

 

The entrance to the museum was covered with automobile hub caps. 

Very interesting visual treatment!

 

 

This is one of the Swiss Railway's largest electric locomotives. 

Some of these locomotive are still in use today.  We had a knowledgeable

tour guide who provide us with the history of each of the piece of

railway equipment on display in this part of the museum.

 

 

I am standing in front of a rotary snow plow.  It's size impressed me!

 

 

The museum had a neat model railway of the Gotthard Tunnel. 

Above is just a small part of the large model.

There were many vintage electric railway locomotives on display.

 

 

In addition to the excellent train exhibit there were exhibits

that included airplanes, boats and  automobiles.  After lunch we

had a chance to see most of the other exhibits at the museum.  

This is world class museum and is enjoyable for all ages.

The balance of the afternoon after our museum visit included

taking the tram back downtown and free time.  Many of our

group used the free time to explore the shopping

opportunities in downtown Lucerne.

 

 

On Thursday, August 20, we had a brief lecture on the

"Swiss History and It's Political System" by our Tour

Coordinator Andrea John.  Andrea has the difficult job

of keeping our group on schedule which included a wide

variety of train and boat boarding's sometimes with not

very much time available.  After the lecture we rode the

city buses to the old part of Lucerne.  I am  standing

in front of the famous Lion Monument.  The dying

lion of Lucerne is carved into natural rock, it was created

in 1820/1821 in memory of the Swiss heroes who gave their

lives at the Tuileries in Paris in 1792.

 

 

I am standing in front of the Chapel Bridge.  It was built

in 1333, and is one of Lucerne's main landmarks. 

It features a number of gable painting.

 

 

A view of downtown Lucerne from the Chapel Bridge.

 

 

One of several very attractive fountains found in

and around downtown Lucerne.

 

 

After lunch at a downtown hotel, we took a train to

Arth-Goldau where we boarded the above a cog-railway

for a ride up to Mount Rigi.  We then hiked across the

Mountain to a second cog-railway.

 

 

As we walked along on this beautiful Swiss afternoon

we encountered many cows with their cow bells clanging

as the ate their daily meal of grass.  The sound of the bells

was quite nice in this rural setting.

 

 

Distant mountains added to the pleasant afternoon

for hiking and cog-railway riding.

 

 

Here comes our cog-railway train for our downward trip.

 

 

This is the small turntable that was used to

turn the cog-railway cars around so they

could be parked in the garage each evening.

 

 

After our cog-railway rides and hike, we boarded a paddle

wheel lake cruise boat like this one to traverse across

Lake Lucerne.   There are five lake cruise ships that sail

around the lake on a daily basis.  At 4:15 p.m. we departed

for Vitznau and the took another paddle wheeler to

Beckenried.  From Beckenried we sailed on a historic

paddle-steamer back to Lucerne.  We enjoyed a dinner on board

the paddle steamer in the salon restaurant.

 

 

As we returned to Lucerne, we passed a beach club where

many swimmers were cooling off from the

high temperature of the day. 

 

 

Our paddle-steamer tied up at their dock in Lucerne. 

It was a busy day in which we enjoyed

riding a tram and cog-steamer along with hiking.

 

 

Friday, August 21st, found our tour leaving Lucerne for

Interlaken.  We departed from Lucerne for Brunig-Pass

and Brienz.  We packed a lunch after breakfast to be enjoyed

as we rode along today.  Above is a photo to the scenery

as we traveled on our train. 

 

 

The train passing along the Swiss countryside.

 

 

A beautiful waterfall appeared as we rode along.  At 12:45 p.m.

we arrived in Brienz where we boarded a lake steamer for the

balance of the trip to Interlaken.  Upon arriving in Interlaken we

had our bags picked up by our new hotel and the tour group had a

leisurely walk into Interlake and our hotel. 

 

 

This the entrance to our hotel at Interlaken.  The Zentrum Artos

Hotel was very interesting in that it was a multi-purpose operation. 

In addition to the hotel part there was an apartment complex and

a nursing home section.  It was a very modern facility that was

operated by a branch of the Methodist Church of Switzerland. 

After settling in from our train and boat ride, we had free time

and then a lecture by Esther Gloor on the topic of the

"Alps-History, Culture and Challenges."  Esther is leaving our

tour today for some personal holiday time.  She did a great

job when delivering her lecture to the group.  Interlaken

is a neat city with ample chances to walk

around and shop or just sightsee.

 

 

Saturday, August 22, found our group up and ready to go. 

We boarded a local bus at 8:46 a.m. to go to the West Train

Station.  We then boarded the intercity train to Bern at 9:06 a.m. 

Above is a photo of our train arriving at Interlaken.

 

 

We arrived in downtown Bern at 9:52 a.m.  We discovered

that the Swiss trains and boats are always on arrive and

depart on time.  The run like a fine Swiss watch.  We saw

thousands of watches in the shops of all the cities we visited. 

Above is a photo of the farmers style market

held in front of the city hall.

 

 

Our city group tour started with a visit to Bern's famous

Clock Tower.  We returned at 11:50 a.m. to see the animated

features of the clock.  Awesome!

 

 

Bern is also know as the city of fountains.  There are many

elaborate fountains throughout the downtown part of Bern. 

An interesting side note about Switzerland is that all the

fountains in the country provide drinkable water.  We filled

out water bottles often at the various fountains

we encountered on our tour.

 

 

I visited the Alpine Museum,  it was a small but very interesting

collection of art and models.  Above is a representation

of hikers scaling an Alp Mountain.

 

 

The Alpine Museum had several models like this one which

illustrated the Alps configuration.  The also showed a video of

how these models were made.   We had lunch on our own at Bern

and lots of free time.  The tour group assembled at Bahnhofplatz at 3:40 p.m.

to board our 4:04 p.m. train to Interlaken.  We arrived back in Interlaken

at 5:06 p.m. and took a city bus back to our hotel.  I should mention that

we were given a Swiss Rail Pass at the start of our tour. 

This allowed us to travel on travel on all trains, Buses and

visit museums.  There were a few exceptions but they were very rare.

 

Day seven of our tour was one that held great promise for high

levels of Alpine mountain scenery.  We are heading up into the region

called "The Top of Europe."  We left at 8:30 a.m. from the hotel

heading for Interlaken's East Railway Terminal

called Ost.  We boarded our a narrow gauge train to

Lauterbrunnen at 9:05 a.m. 

 

 

This is the map of the route that our group followed to

Kleine Scheidegg terminal.   I took advantage of the

opportunity to go to the Top of Europe.

Pictures of that part of the tour are shown later.

 

 

Beautiful Alpine mountains were virtually in every direction.

 

 

Another cog railway heading up to the top!

 

 

 

The cog railway station where we stopped part

way to the top of the Alps.

 

 

Glacier capped Alps were breathtaking.

 

 

Our stop included a visit to an Alpine farm where cheese

was made.  Note the large cow bells that adorn the end of the

building where the cheese was made.  We watched the

process of cheese making.  Tasting of the final

product was in order.

 

 

This mountain water fall stopped flowing just after we arrived

at the mountain restaurant where we were to have lunch. 

Suddenly, there was a huge noise and a vast amount of

snow, ice & water cascaded down this waterfall.  It sounded

like a steam locomotive rushing by.  This photo was taken

after the snow, ice and water stopped falling.

 

 

There were hundreds of people hiking in the Alps this Sunday. 

Trails like this on were all well marked for the benefit of the hikers. 

Many hikers rode the cog railway trains into the mountains for a day of hiking.

After lunch we rode the cog railway up to Klein Scheidegg , where the

group had time to enjoy a walk about and a cup of coffee.

 

I elected to take the cog railway up to the Jungfraujoch or

Top of Europe.  It was a bright sunny day with little breeze, so

it was off to the top.  The cog railway leaves Klein Scheidegg

and begins a steep climb up the mountain.  Most of the route

is inside a tunnel carved out of the mountain. 

It took about 45 minutes to climb to the observation station. 

The top of Jungfraujoch is 11,233 feet above sea level.

 

 

This photo shows the Jungfrau Railway (Jungfraubahn) Tram heading

up to Jungfraujoch, the center of the mountain top at 3454 meters.

 

 

This is the first stopping point on the trip

up to the top, 9,400 feet high.

 

 

One of the views from the observation windows at this

stop.  There were three observation points at this level.

 

 

The next level at which the train stopped for 10 minutes to

look out over the mountain scenery.

 

 

Looking out at the Aletschgletscher. 

 

 

At the top!  Note the glacier in the background. 

 

 

 

It was a beautiful day to climb to  the top of mountains.  The

snow was a bit soft and slippery.  This Alpine mountain area is a

designated by UNESCO World Heritage of the Alps site

designed to preserve the alpine area. 

The building just behind me is the cog railway station

with gift shops and a cafeteria.

 

 

 

The Top of Europe was very crowded this day.  it was a

perfect time to take photos of a majestic scenery locale. 

I took far more photos than I can post on my web page. 

Going down took almost an hour including about forty

five minutes in the tunnel.  This was an adventure of a

life time for me!  Once back at Klein Scheidegg, I

caught a cog railway train back to Interlaken.  There

was one transfer point at Lauterbrunnen. 

I was back in Interlaken by 6 p.m.

 

 

The next morning again arrived with bright sunshine and

breathtaking vista of the near by Alps.  At 8:46 a.m. we take the

local bus to the Interlaken -West train station.  We depart at

9:11 a.m. by the Golden Pass Express for Zweisimmen and

the village of St. Stephan where we will visit

the local elementary school.

 

 

This is also change day for our tour.  We will be staying at Brig

for the next two evenings.  Above is pictured our efforts to

assemble our luggage for transport to Brig.  It is always a

bit of a fire drill when we leave one motel

to move to a new city.

 

 

Alpine scenery on the way to St. Stephan's.

 

 

St. Stephan's village.

 

 

St. Stephan's Elementary School.

 

 

Teaching on the floor.  There were two grades in each

classroom.  The total number of students were eighteen to twenty. 

We observed a math lesson taught in the native language of

German for this area of Switzerland.

 

 

The students in this and other schools in the village went

home for lunch from noon to 1:00p.m.  This bike rack was

empty when we left the building after the students had

been dismissed for lunch.  The teacher of the class we observed

was able to join us for lunch at a local restaurant.

 

 

After lunch we took the train back to Zweisimmen.  At 2:26 p.m.

we boarded the Golden Pass Express Zweisimmen-Montreux, at

4:40 p.m. we changed to an intercity train to Brig.  We arrived in

Brig at 6:02 p.m. and walked to our hotel.  I would like to note

that most of our train rides were under an hour with frequent

transfers to other trains each time we traveled out to the

various parts of Switzerland.  Above is the Train Station in Brig. 

We are staying at the Schlosshotel Art Furrer.

 

 

The hotel overlooked the large Stockalper-Castle.  It was a

truly beautiful setting.  Each evening the Castle was illuminated

by flood lights.  There were very nice park beside the

castle.  We had a tour of the Castle on Tuesday, August 25th. 

It is a community center for the local government.

 

 

After the morning Castle tour we departed by train to

Zermatt at 10:53 a.m.  Above is a sleigh full of very pretty flowers. 

Zermatt had a lot of flowers decorating the building of the city. 

 

 

We had arrived in Zermatt at lunch time so it was off to find a

fondue lunch.  It was yummy!  At 1:50 p.m. we took the

underground train to Sunnegga high above Zermatt.  Unfortunately

it was very cloudy so we did not see the Matterhorn in its

entirety.   At 3:00 p.m. we took the train down from Sunnegga. 

We boarded our train back to Brig at 3:30 p.m. It was too bad

that the cloud kept us from seeing the tops of the many

mountains that you can see from the upper reaches of Zermatt.

 

 

We passed several pretty water falls on the way back to Brig.

 

 

The train followed a mountain stream as it

made its way to Brig.  When we returned to our hotel we

had dinner and then a local lecturer spoke

about "Valais Legends" of the Brig area.

 

 

Above is a photo of our group with luggage in tow

loading on to the Cisalpine Train for Domodossola, Italy

on our way to Locarno, Switzerland.  As the trip progressed

we were more often having to handle our own luggage

when we boarded our trains. 

 

 

Our hearty travel group making its way to our hotel in Locarno. 

The hotel picked up our luggage when we arrived

at the Locarno Railway Station which made climbing

the hill to the hotel easier.

 

 

The Carmella Hotel was very nice and reasonably close to the

train station.  It was our home for the next

three nights.  It was a nice hotel that was located fairly

close to downtown and its many gelato stands.  Getting

a gelato ice cream cone became a nightly ritual for

some trip members.   On Thursday morning, we had

an early guided walk around the old town of Locarno.

 

 

During the walk we visited a couple of neighborhood plazas

and a local church.  At the end of our tour, we walked through

the city market place which had a market day selling all types of merchandize.

Unfortunately our schedule did not allow us to stop and shop.

We walked to the local train station where we were boarded a yellow

Postal Bus to Valle Verzasca for a visit to

Sonogno. a quaint old village.

 

 

As we rode along we passed this unique two section bridge

with spans over the stream.  It was a very warm day and many

people were enjoying swimming and playing in the stream. 

As you can see it was a very rocky locale.  This old double-arched

bridge Ponte dei Salti which is often mistakenly

known as "Roman Bridge".

 

 

Adjoining houses made of stone.  There were many stone

buildings in this area.  Stone appeared to be the building

material of choice due to it being very plentiful.  take note of the stairs

entering the left building.  I watched  a local workman

repairing a stone roof. 

 

 

Chiesa Saint Maria Lauerana.

 

 

An interesting stone house in Sonogno.  Note the stone steps

leading to the second level door.

 

 

As we were leaving the area of Sonogno we

passed this very pretty water fall.

We were back at Locarno by 4:10 p.m. and

had free time the rest of the day before dinner. 

  

 

On Friday, August 28, we ventured to the train station for a

trip to Bellinzona.  We arrived at Bellinzona at 9:57 a.m. and

were met by a local guide who will lead the tour the city. 

Our first stop was in a city square below the

Castlegrande pictured above.

 

 

The Castlegrande had been rebuilt in recent years and

was the center of activity for many community events. 

Note the vineyard just outside the castle gates.

 

 

We stopped touring long enough to have a group photo taken.

 

 

After our tour of Bellinzona, we had lunch on our own and

then boarded a train for Biasca where we boarded a Postal

Bus for the Alptransit Visitor Center, where we learned about

the new Gotthard Railroad Tunnel that is being dug through

several Alpine mountains.  In the background of this photo is a

water falls behind the Biasca Train station.

 

 

One of the massive cutting heads used in the the machine

that is drilling the tunnel through the mountains.  After stop

at the tunnel digging visitor center, we returned to Locarno by

riding the Postal Bus and the train.

 

 

The next morning checked out of our hotel and boarded

the regional and intercity trains to Goschenen.  While on that

route we passed by the beginning point of the new Gotthard Tunnel. 

 At 9:12 a.m. we took the cog-railway at Andermatt.  Where

we next we boarded the Glacier Express for a trip through the

upper Rhine River valley.  At 9:27 a.m. we boarded the

first class train that will take us along the river to Reichenau.

 

 

At the top of the Glacier Express route the trained stopped

to unload passengers.  This group were going

biking in the mountains.

 

 

The clouds were really low in his part of the trip.

 

 

The Village of Sedrun where the new Gotthard Tunnel

project is drilling an air shaft to vent the fumes from the

tunnel.  The yellow machine in the background handles

the material dug from the tunnel.

 

 

 

Our hearty group of travelers changing trains on

a tight schedule.  At 12:08 p.m. we began our

scenic ride along the Rhaetische Bahn

on the Albula Line.

 

 

We are now following the upper section of the Rhine River. 

This is a picture of a group of kayaker's sailing on the river.

 

 

At lunch time, we transferred to the blue dining car at

the rear end of this train for lunch in a vintage railroad car.  

 The food was very good and the car was restored beautifully.

 

 

As we were enjoying lunch we passed a farm house with a

sizeable wood pile in the yard for the winter ahead.

 

 

We arrived at St. Moritz at 1:58 p.m.  Our luggage

was transferred to our hotel for us.  Above

is the Hotel Soldanella where we

will be staying for the next two nights.

 

 

St. Moritz

 

 

St. Moritz Lake

 

 

 

On Sunday, we had free time in the morning before we took the train

to Pontresina at 10:45 a.m.  It was a short distance walk

before transferring to the Postal Bus which took us over the

Bernina Pass to Poschiavo.  Above is a shot

taken from the bus as we went over the Pass.

 

 

Another alpine mountain scene on the Bernina Pass.

 

 

Poschiavo railroad station.

 

 

City Hall Square with the flags flying from the City Hall.

 

 

The village Catholic Church, Parrocchia Cattolica St. Vittore Mauro. 

After lunch, at Ristorante Flora we had the traditional city

walking tour.  The meal served at the ristorante was awful and

was served in large portions.   One of the group observed that

he hoped there were pigs nearby who dine on the half full plates

of risotto that had not been eaten.

 

 

A mountain with marble deposits guarded Poschiavo.

 

 

A alpine mountain village on the Bernina Pass.  We

retraced the route we took on the bus this morning. 

We were riding on the Bernina Express

train back to St. Moritz.

 

 

Bernina Pass mountains.  The ride back on the train trip was as

breathtaking as the trip over on the Postal Bus.  We ended

our travel day back at St. Moritz at 5:11 p.m.

 

 

It is Monday, August 31st and our trip is almost over. We left

St. Moritz at 9:04 a.m. by train for Chur where we

transferred to another train for Zurich.  We packed our own lunch

for our train ride.  At we received word that there was a problem

with a train on the tracks ahead so we would had to

quickly change trains to Zurich.  It was fire drill time again. 

Above is a mountain scene from the morning travel to Zurich.

 

 

There were several old castles along the way as we were

following the upper part of the Rhine River.

 

 

Mountains along a large lake we passed on our way to Zurich.

 

 

We arrived at the Zurich Airport Railroad Station at 1:45 p.m.

and walked to our last motel, the Hotel Welcome Inn.  It was

very comfortable and made for a pleasant stay on our last

night in Switzerland.  The next day, Tuesday, September 1st

we all went our separate ways headed home.

 

It was a great two weeks.  Wonderful Swiss mountains and trains. 

Interesting boat and bus rides.  Very nice people and good

leadership on the part of our tour staff.  For me, I am lucky enough to

have taken about 1300 photos to look at when I want to remember

this trip of a "life time" for me.