Monday, 31 August 2009

Beautiful Switzerland Trip Report last bit

Thought I'd better finish my very long trip report before tomorrow as school starts on Thursday, so lots to do...

Day 4: Monday
On Monday my adventurous side took over and we decided to take the cable car further up the mountain and have lunch at the restaurant called Bergrestaurant Grotzenb├╝el, and also do some walks to search for Dwarf Baartli. 

Me being decidedly unfond of heights and vehicles moving in the air, my heart really raced as we walked up to the gondelbahn station as they call it.  But the girls were so excited that I tried to curb my unenthusiasm.   We got into this yellow little cubicle and at first I was perturbed that it was swinging even though we were standing still.  Werner pointed out to me that they were all swinging slightly and it was nothing to worry about.  Soon enough we were off and it was actually not that bad.  The cable car at Table Mountain is much worse.  This one does not go really high off the ground even though you are going higher up in the moutains, so its not too scary.

When we got there we decided to first look for Dwarf Baartli's cottage and then his cave.  Dwaarf Baartli is a very elusive dwarf that lives in Braunwald.  He has a cave, 2 houses / cottages, an Edelsteengespalte (like a mine where he gets his jewels from) and a throne that one can look for.  These walks are aimed at children, but to be honest they are not easy or closeby at all.  I struggled, Werner struggled because he had to carry Silke most of the time, Mieke struggled because she wanted to find the £$£$%^ cave and we couldn't - at first!! 

But up we went in our big search - passing cows with bells and the most astonishing scenery - another world.  We first found the Edensteengespalte which was like a cave tunnel and it it had a spade and a pick and a big red ruby stuck in the rock wall (unfortunately too high too reach!).  There was also a book for Mieke to write in (Mieke and Silke Nel from South Africa was here - sorry UK) and some other stuff a dwarf might use.

After catching our breath we went in search of his cottage.  This was a very cute wooden cottage with his little bed, desk and chair, plate and cup and of course the book to write in.  Though Snow White has obviously not been in yet as the cottage was quite dirty.

We then decided to search for the cave - which turned out to be most elusive and really really very far.  We trudged along not always knowing if we were still going the right way, and Mieke getting more annoyed by the moment - she wanted the cave and she wanted it now.  So over bridges and up hills we went.  Eventually we found a buggy left at a spot on the way where it could not go any further (how they got it there beats me!).  Then we found the owners of the buggy - 2 woman, a child and a baby (which was being carried) on their way back.  I realized I had nothing to complain about.  They told us in German that it wasn't far now - once you're that tired you magically understand foreign languages - and eventually we reached the cave.

To be honest I can't really remember what was in the cave, also some cute dwarf stuff, but walking back after relaxing a bit and Mieke doing her writing I realized that the search is really what is all about.  You don't know how long you've got to go, where it is, if you're going to make it - so when you do its just amazing!  And walking back is even better - the tiredness just magically disappears.  So we went to have a bad and expensive lunch at the restaurant (but it was still worth it) and the the kids had a play on the lovely playground right by the gondelbahn.  Its wonderful to watch them play in such a magnificent setting.

After lunch we went down with the cable car again, had a swim and really appreciated our lovely dinner that evening.

Day 5:  Tuesday
We did not want to have such a strenuous day again, but wanted to have a picnic somewhere for lunch.  So we went to town  - which basically consisted of a bakery, a grocery store, a fruit and veg store, a few clothing shops and a tourist office.  We bought some lovely soft milk rolls, cheese and cold meat which looked a bit like thinly sliced biltong.  We also bought beer which was extremely cheap at 90 Swiss Franc Cents (sorry don't know what their cents are called) which works out to about 50p a bottle!!

The I asked the lady at the tourist office where we could have a picnic which was not too far to walk.  She first showed me a spot on the map which was right in town where we were.  That was slightly too close but the next option seemed to be a bit of a walk away.  Well that was what we were  there for.

So off we went.  We took Silke's buggy with as far as we could, but eventually had to abandon it next to a tree and start the motivational talks with Silke - go Silke GO!  Our plan was to find Dwarf Baartli's house - I think this was his main residence - and then make a fire there just for fun and because we could.

We walked past the gondola station, up a hill, crossed a stream and had some ice cold spring water to drink - straight from the Alps.  Through a forest and further up the mountain we eventually found the house.  It was the best one yet - a lovely wooden house next to a river - and the girls loved it. 

Unfortunately another family got there before us and were already making a fire.  So we found a nice spot close to the water to have our picnic and attempt to make a fire.  But it had rained the previous night so all the wood was wet so we only managed a very small fire.  Werner and I tried our very best to make it bigger but no luck - don't know why we bothered because the kids weren't really paying attention to our fire making attempts. 

Silke in the meantime found the chocolates (that were on our beds) and while we weren't looking ate 3 of them - luckily leaving one for Mieke.  So we just had our picnic lunch and cheap beer, then washed our picnic blanket in the river (how cool is that), then started the suddenly shorter journey home.

What a lovely day...

Day 6:  Wednesday
We really wanted to see Luzerne, so on Wednesday we took the furnicular down to our car (but only after forgetting our car keys in the hotel and Werner having to go back to fetch them!) and started the drive to Luzerne.

I knew the route to Luzerne was via a mountain pass called the Klausen pass but I did not realize it would be so bad.  If I did I would have never, ever gone that way!  It was absolutely terrifying - mountain on one side, steep  mountainside on the other, no barrier, hair pin bends and cows (with bells for what its worth) in the road.  I wept of sheer terror while Werner and Mieke laughed at me.  I got back at them by taking the very long way around Zurich on the way back - could not go over that pass ever again!!

Luzerne was lovely - hot at 33 degrees and one of the most beautiful cities we've seen.  Clean and bright with its shimmering lake and the mountains in the background.  The shops were great and Werner bough jeans for CHF5!!  Silke got a little St Bernard dog and Mieke a porcelain Heidi doll.  The lady at the gift shop showed them all the different cuckoo clocks  - even Heidi ones - and we were mesmerized.  We had lunch at an Italian restaurant where Mieke and Silke played 'Lady and the Tramp' while eating their spaghetti. 

We would really love to come back to Luzerne one day as our time there was too short.

Day 7:  Thursday
So far we have had wonderful hot weather in Switzerland, so on Thursday we spent the day at the hotel.  Mieke loved the lady at the kiddies club, Katja, and spent the whole morning playing games with her.  She was Katja's favourite which was nice! 

We swam and Silke really gained a lot of confidence in the water - really starting to swim towards me.  I also read a little while sunbathing outside and peeking at the stunning view from my deck chair every now and then - I just never tired of it. 

Mieke also took the hotel goats for a walk around Braunwald with Katja and the other kids - it was a lot of fun but apparently the goats are really naughtly and don't go where they are supposed to!

Day 8:  Friday
Our last day in Braunwald... so sad.  We went for a long walk around Braunwald and discovered a whole part of the village we didn't know about.  It had its own shop and post office.  We also found out how milk gets delivered in the mountains and that one farmer is an avid reader and keeps his books on a built in shelf by his barn.

We also found some tipis in the forest but they were occupied by campers so we could only view them from afar.

That evening was movie night for the kids - my two loved it!  They made and decorated paper bags and made some popcorn.  Then they watched movies while we enjoyed our last dinner alone as a couple for quite some while - boe hoe.  But it was very nice.  After dinner it started to rain but I needed my walk so we borrowed a hotel umbrella and went for our last little walk in Braunwald.

Day 9:  Saturday
We enjoyed our last champagne breakfast and said goodbye to the everyone at the hotel, including the goats and the rabbits.  Then, as usual, we rushed to catch the 8:55am furnicular down to Linthal.  Silke left her doggy behind but the hotel has posted it to me.  Bye Bye Marchenhotel - you will be sorely missed!

We drove about an hour to a town called Rapperswill.  We visited the Kinderzoo which is a cute little zoo just for children.  Lovely giraffes, camels, elephants, monkeys, otters and tiny little horses.  The girls went on a pony ride and Silke kept shouting 'Giddy up, Bullseye!'.  We also enjoyed the sea lion show which was fabulous.

After the zoo we stopped in Rapperswill for lunch and another lovely surprise.  A beautiful town with a large pedestrianised old town right by the lake.  It has stunning old buildings and churches with vinyards between them - beautiful.  The lake again crystal clear and even though it was the first cloudy day of our holiday it was still stunningly beautiful.  We had lunch outside at a lovely little restaurant which seemed very popular.  It was on a square and while we were there a bride arrived to walk to the church which was on the other side of the square - what good luck!

We spent quite a lot of time in Rapperswill so only arrived in Strasbourg around 4pm.  This time we stayed in the Hotel Regent Petite France which was a lovely hotel - right in the centre of the La Petite France area with lovely river views.  We walked through the busy old town to the cathedral, passing many interesting little shops.  The cathedral itself is amazing - one of the largest I've ever seen.  There was a service on inside and but the cathedral is so huge that you can barely see the priest at the front!

We noticed that they had a light show on later that evening, so we decided to come back for that.  We then had dinner at a pizza place where the service was downright rude, but the pizzas were okay.  We went back to our hotel room and me and the girls tried out the jaquzzi bath!!  Then it was nearly 10pm and time to go back to the cathedral.  The lights and music show was spectacular, different parts of the cathedral was lit up in various colours while classical music played - magical.  Especially Silke seemed to love it.  Mieke found some of it a bit scary, as the cathedral really comes to life and unseen details are illuminated.  It was really worth the effort. 

After a disturbed night (due to a very loud wedding at the hotel - what's it with this holiday and weddings) but a very tasty breakfast with pancakes, we set off on the very, very long road home.  We wanted to avoid toll fees so set the Garmin to avoid them for us.  So instead of driving the boring road through France that we came with, we drove through Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and eventually France!!   If you count Switzerland and the UK we covered 6 countries in 10 days - not bad...  And it took the same time and was much more scenic.

We were really glad to get home but Switzerland has definitely taken hold of my heart.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Beautiful Switzerland - it took my breath away....

We just returned from our holiday to Switzerland, and I'm still in awe.  What a great country - if South Africa and England for that matter could just learn a few lessons from Switzerland the world would be a better place.

Everything is spotless, the water is crystal clear even in large city lakes, and everything works perfectly.  I loved it.  If I didn't hate cold winters and snow I would move there tomorrow.  I read somewhere about an expat child now living in Switzerland, about 4 years old, who - when she noticed a huge crack in the pavement while on holiday in Greece - exclaimed:  'Look!!  A mistake!!' 

Definitely no mistakes in Switzerland. 

But anyway - let me get on with my trip report -

Day 1 Friday:
We left early in the morning to make the 7:20 Eurotunnel crossing.  We were slightly late but made up the time on the quiet highway.  Or so we thought.  Until we made the mistake of queing in the line operated by a person.  A procedure that normally takes 30 seconds took 20 minutes because of an imcompetent zot (when last did I use that word?) which did not know what he was doing.  I mean how difficult can it be - I normally do it myself in 10 seconds!!  Anyhow to make a long annoying story short, we could only catch the following crossing. 

After a long drive we reached Strasbourg where we stayed in the Best Western Hotel Monopole which is rated the fourth best hotel in Strasbourg by Tripadvisor.  I really wonder why. 

We strolled to the La Petite France area of Strasbourg which is the old part around the canals.  It really was beautiful, though slightly soured by the nasty french waiter, who (even though the restaurant was empty) did not want us to sit outside at one of the tables to have drinks.  When we only ordered drinks he nearly had a heart attack and while Werner still wanted to keep the peace and just order some food I refused and we left to find a friendlier place.  Just across the road right next to the river we stopped at Restaurant Marco Polo who was most welcoming.  So we ended up having dinner there anyway enjoying the warm weather and the view.

Afterwards we took the girls for a play at a lovely wooden play area which really blended nicely with the surroundings.  We also discovered the lovely hotel we were staying in on the way back - right on top of the bridge between two canals - beautiful.

Day 2 Saturday:
The next morning we set off for Switzerland, driving through Germany.  Then for some reason we landed right in the centre of Zurich which had lots of roadworks going on - so it took us a while to get to our destination - or rather our car's destination - Linthal.

We unloaded our luggage, left it at the station, bought tickets for the furnicular and then like usual, missed the next one as Werner took slightly long to park the car.  He then took Silke to the toilet so we nearly missed the following one as well!!  But eventually we all boarded the furnicular to Braunwald.  Oh yes - definition of furnicular according to Wikipedia - funicular, also known as a funicular railway, incline, inclined railway, inclined plane, or cliff railway, is a self-contained cable railway in which a cable attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles on rails moves them up and down a steep slope, the ascending and descending vehicles counterbalancing each other.

Needless to say I was slightly nervous going 1200 metres up a mountain on a steep train - looking up was much better than looking down.  Luckily this lasted only about 7 minutes and then we were there.  And what a beautiful place.  But it was really hot and we were keen to get to our hotel, which was still a 10 minute uphill walk away!! 

But as we entered the hotel all our troubles melted away.  First we were greeted by the two hotel rabbits - Hasi and Hopf!!  Then we had some orange juice while the owners welcomed and showed us to our room - via the aquarium lift of which Silke never tired.  Our room was large and airy with a nice patio which had a stunning view of the surrounding mountains.  We even had our own gowns and slippers to be worn to the pool - though Werner never really took to that idea!

The hotel surpassed all our expectations.  There was a slide that took little guests from the first to the ground floor, three hotel goats outside with their own Golden Gate Bridge to cross, the stunning aquarium lift, 2 play rooms with free childcare at certain times, outside play area with trampoline, tennis courts, climbing wall, jaquzzi, swimming pool with slide and pool toys (and arm bands to borrow), sauna, whirlpool, wellness centre with some fitness equipment on the top floor and wherever you turn the most stunning mountain views.

Needless to say I was quite chuffed with my choice!!

Lydia (the owner) asked if the children would like to have dinner with us the first night but Werner insisted that they could have dinner with the other kids.  So at 5:45pm we went to the children's dining room where Lydia served the children's dinner, which varied but always included 3 vegetables.  At the table Mieke and Silke's name cards were already there, even though we only arrived after 4pm!!  After their dinner we left them outside with the kids club and even though I was slightly worried about them we were very happy to have dinner on our own for a change.

And what lovely meals we had each night.  First a starter, then soup (I liked the truffle soup the best), the buffet salad, then a meat or vegetarian main course (the fillet steak was really delicious), then cheese and fruit (and watermelon for Mieke), then dessert.  Then a long walk after dinner each night to walk it all off!!

But I am getting ahead of myself now...

Day 3 Sunday:
Once we were there we realized that we were not going to be able to go on many day trips on this holiday!  First it was quite costly to get up and down the mountain (CH30 which is about £15 for 2 adults - children free) and secondly there was enough to keep us busy at the hotel and in Braunwald. 

So, after breakfast which included milk from a (not so real) cow which really moos and some sweets for dessert for the girls, we just enjoyed the hotel and the surroundings. 

We also went for a swim and I was pleased that the hotel had armbands we could borrow, as Silke's had a puncture.  Silke recently developed a fear of water, and I could not even hold her body slightly away from mine.  So with arm bands on, bit by bit I tried to build her confidence in the water.  First she clung to me like a baby monkey, then I got her to hold onto both my hands, then one hand, and then eventually with Mieke's help, she let go!!  She was so happy when she realized that she was floating - she said:  'Look Mammie, the arm bands make me float!'  Yes Silke, that's what I've been trying to show you for the past two days...

Then she started barking like a puppy (all my fault - I told her to swim like a doggy) while she kicked her legs and made odd puppy like arm movements.  Eventually I got her to stop barking but then she started saying 'kick, move, kick, move' over and over again - oh the joy.  But she is swimming and is loving it which is all that matters...

To be continued ... hopefully tomorrow...

Here is the link to all the photos inf you haven't had enough!!