I enjoyed another trip up to Switzerland to visit my very good friends Karin & Elvis in July. You just can’t beat summer in Switzerland!
The trip from Bangkok started extremely well with an upgrade to Business Class on Swiss Air. The flight was overbooked in economy and being a single traveller I got lucky. I landed in Zurich at 7pm and it was still 32 degrees!
After a bit of a sleep in the next day we went on a bike ride along the river to Dallenwiel where they have a factory that makes goat cheese. I was really channeling my Heidi here 🐐 👧 😂. We also enjoyed some time in Lake Lucerne and by the pool.
On Thursday we went on a road trip to Bern which is where the Swiss parliament resides. One of the cool things to do in Bern is to float down the Aare – the swift flowing river that winds its way through the city.
The Aare river flows around three sides of the city of Bern. Extending 288 kilometers, the Aare is the longest river flowing entirely within Switzerland. The Aare river has a special meaning in the Swiss capital, Bern. The Bernese have a special love for “their” river. And they treat it with the same tenderness with which the renowned Aare Loop flows around the city. The Aare is their pride and joy, and the center of daily life. In the Middle Ages, in particular, when the city of Bern was spread only on the lower part of the peninsula, the Aare provided great protection from foreign armies on three sides of the city. It wasn’t until the construction of the first high bridges in the 19th century that there were multiple ways to access the city
In the summer it is particularly popular – who needs the sea when you have the Aare. There were so many people enjoying the free lido area on the banks of the river and also floating down it. We walked alongside the river for about a kilometre and then got all set to jump off the bridge in to the quite fast flowing river below. Karin & Elvis did it but I chickened out – I could see the bottom and wasn’t too keen on hitting it. I went to the side of the river and jumped in from there. Karin & Elvis waited for me part way down and we floated the rest of the way together. It is so much fun but there is an art to getting out – you have to get to the side and then grab onto the railings and hold on or you will continue down the river. There are some dam gates further down but that area is a no go for safety reasons.
We repeated the experience another couple of times – it is addictive and I probably could have done it all day long if it hadn’t been for walking bare feet in the searing heat. The river temperature was about 21 degrees so positively tropical – as you can imagine the river can get pretty cold but the great summer weather worked it’s magic for us.
Prior to floating down the river we went to the Zentrum Paul Klee museum which is dedicated to the artist Paul Klee and features about 40% of his works. Paul Klee (18 December 1879 – 29 June 1940) was a Swiss-born artist. His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. Klee was a natural draftsman who experimented with and eventually deeply explored color theory, writing about it extensively; his lectures Writings on Form and Design Theory (Schriften zur Form und Gestaltungslehre), published in English as the Paul Klee Notebooks, are held to be as important for modern art as Leonardo da Vinci‘s A Treatise on Painting for the Renaissance. He and his colleague, Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, both taught at the Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture. His works reflect his dry humor and his sometimes childlike perspective, his personal moods and beliefs, and his musicality.
The exhibition was broken down into the various periods of his life and focused on who he was associating with at the time in terms of his art. It was really clear to see how his art changed over the years and the influence those other artists had on him – they also displayed some pieces from these artists to enable you to see the commonalities. One such artist was Pablo Picasso whom he admired greatly and who he finally got to meet in 1933 / 1934 while exhibiting in London and Paris.
They also had a feature exhibition downstairs entitled Ecstasy or Ekstase in German which was quite bizarre in my opinion.
Ecstasy – a desire for moments of intense pleasure and passion is a universal feature of human existence. This exhibition explored the great diversity of ecstatic phenomena and traces their changing cultural meanings and representations in visual art.
There was lots of footage of events / gatherings / parties where people were dancing, shaking, crying uncontrollably – very psychedelic 🤪🥺
On the way back to Buochs we called into another village called Hergiswil where there was a group of people practising the Alphorn. The Alphorn is also known as an Alpine Horn or Alpen Horn. It has its origins in central Europe, primarily in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Northern Italy. It is a natural conical (cone-shaped) horn made of wood, and is played with a cup shaped mouthpiece, similar to trumpet, french horn, or trombone.
I can imagine it is quite an art to play one of these instruments.
On Saturday the 27th July I borrowed one of Karin’s friends electric mountain bike so we could cycle up the Buochserhorn – the home mountain of the village of Buochs where Karin & Elvis live. The Buochserhorn standing at 1,807 metres high is in the Swiss Prealps, overlooking Lake Lucerne on the range west of the Schwalmis.
You can cycle up to about 1,500 metres and walk the rest of the way to the top. We mainly cycled on the roads and passed many farmers houses – you have to have a permit to drive your car up there so the traffic is pretty much restricted to those living up there. I just love checking out the farm houses and barn set ups which house the cows in both the summer (for the heat) and the winter (due to the snow and cold weather). It is so different from NZ – most farms have between 15 and 25 cows whereas in NZ an average form would have about 180 cows and in a lot of cases even more.
It was a fantastic day and the views were pretty spectacular. We had taken the binoculars up with us so we could check out what Elvis was doing at home 😂.
We cycled back down a different way and had lunch in Niederrickenbach next to a Benedictine monastery. I really enjoyed my sausage salad – if you have read any of my previous Swiss blogs you will know I am not usually a sausage fan but I love Swiss sausages.
After lunch and a wrong turn initially, which resulted in pushing my bike back up a hill 😂, the road effectively wound it’s way through a forest to the bottom. It was stunning and right up my alley. Karin had been teaching me some german sentences – one a day, so today she decided I should learn to count from one to ten so most of the way down I was repeating the numbers in German to myself. We had to stop regularly as the brakes on the bikes overheat so at each stop I had to count to ten 👩🏼🎓 with proper pronunciation – easier said than done for me with my Kiwi accent 🙄.
After a stunning day on the Saturday the rain came on Sunday and stayed around most of the day so a chill day at home was in order.
On Monday afternoon we went and played a round of golf at Andermatt which is a really nice course in a popular ski area. It was really windy and that combined with borrowed clubs that Noah potentially used it was an interesting round. Actually things improved and it was a very enjoyable afternoon.
The plan for the next few days was to head over to Glarus where Karin’s parent live and do a bit of hiking.
The most scenic route to Glarus is over the Klausen Pass which is a high mountain pass in the Swiss Alps connecting Altdorf in the canton of Uri with Linthal in the canton of Glarus. Somewhat unusually, the boundary between the two cantons does not lie at the summit of the pass, but some 8 kilometres down the slope towards Linthal, with the summit being in Uri. The summit of the Pass sits at 1,948 metres.
I have been up here before and it is a stunning part of Switzerland. The plan was to drive to Urnerboden which is on the other side of the Klausen Pass, park the car and catch the bus back up to the summit of the Klausen Pass and begin our hike to the Glacier Lake from there.
We were running a bit tight on time and everything in Switzerland runs to a precise timetable as you can imagine so there is really no wriggle room 😂. We calculated we would probably be fine, that was until we came across a farmer moving cows on the road just past the summit on the way down. OMG, talk about browns cows! And they were weeing and pooing all over the place – Elvis had cleaned his car for my arrival so it was looking a bit grim after that encounter.
We finally got past the cows and Karin started channeling Lewis Hamilton and it was time to hold on – it is very windy coming down the Klausen Pass with lots of drop offs 🥺. She was worrying about me feeling sick but having to hang on to stop flying out of my seat was enough of a distraction. I was also charged with counting down the clock. We pulled into the carpark and the bus was already there – Karin had to put her boots on but I was ready to go so she told me to run to the bus and tell it to wait. I had only learnt a few sentences in German at this stage and “can you wait for my friend” was not one of them but I was prepared to put on the Kiwi charm and hand signals if necessary. Fortunately there were a few other people getting on the bus and paying their fares so by the time I got to the front of the queue Karin had arrived 😅.
We caught our breath whilst on the bus going back up tp where we had just come from.
First stop was the Griesslisee (glacier lake) from where you can see the Clariden Glacier. This lake formed in the 1980’s and doesn’t have an official name. We had our lunch on the lakes edge and of course had to test out the water – at first it was nice and refreshing but it did not take long for the feet to start going numb ⛄️. There were a few small glaciers floating on the lake and we watched one small one disappear under the water. There were a number of loud crashes where bits of ice or rocks fell into the lake on the far side – you could always hear them but not always see them.
We left the lake and started the hike towards the cable car that would take us down to Urnerboden where we had left the car. We stopped off at a little Alp to have some refreshments – coffee with liquor in it to be precise 😉 and met up with some people that Karin had been talking to on the bus. It turned out that Karin had taught one of the woman’s sons a few years back.
Back on the track which was undulating and crossed a few pastures and waterways – we had seen a lot of different flowers along the way which added to the magic of it all. We were climbing up a rocky path that twisted and turned when something ran across a few metres in front of us. My first reaction was “there’s a cat” but then I realised it was a Marmot.
Marmots are large rodents with characteristically short but robust legs, enlarged claws well adapted to digging, stout bodies and large heads and incisors to quickly process a variety of vegetation. Marmots are the largest members of the squirrel family. Some species live in mountainous areas where they typically live in burrows and hibernate there through the winter. Most marmots are highly social and use loud whistles to communicate with one another, especially when alarmed.
I had seen Marmots in captivity before but never in the wild so it was quite exciting. We decided to climb up onto a grassy hill and wait to see if the marmot appeared again. About ten minutes later he came out of hiding and went back towards the path, where he stood on his hind legs and started whistling. Next minute on the either side of the valley we spotted another marmot who whistled back. It was quite fascinating to watch – luckily we had taken the binoculars so we could take a closer look.
We carried on and came across another couple of marmots running through the field – they stood on top of this cliff looking down the valley for quite a while so again we could observe them through the binoculars.
We arrived at the 2,000 meter high Fisetengrat on the Fiseten Pass and took the cable car back to the Urnerboden Valley which is the largest alpine meadow in Switzerland where approximately 1,200 cows roam in spring and autumn. There is even a cheese factory there to process all the milk produced and Karin purchased a few cheeses to take to her parents.
When we got to the cable car the same family that we had talked to on the bus and at the little Alp were sitting inside – they had taken the road so had beaten us there.
The descent down to Urnerboden was about 700 metres – the cable car goes diagonally down the mountain above the forest. I love cable cars!
Enroute to Karin’s parents in Schwanden we stopped off at Karin’s favorite spot – the Berglistüber waterfall. As early as 1897, this waterfall was described as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Switzerland. You can venture behind the “water curtain” and comfortably reach the outcrop of the thrust fault which we did. The rock face consists of about 150 million year old winter limestone from the so-called Griesstock Nappe. The underlying shale rocks are of about 50 million year old flysch rock, which was deposited over the bedrock and has barely shifted since that time.
When we woke up on Wednesday morning it was raining which had been forecast. We went into Glarus and did a spot of retail therapy which is always good fun. The weather cleared up in the afternoon so Karin’s Mum drove us up to the top of the village and we walked to Karin’s brother’s place in Glarus. It was nice to get more of a feel for the place that Karin had grown up in.
Before dinner we went and played a little nine hole golf course which was fun.
The 1st of August is the national holiday of Switzerland. Although the founding of the Swiss Confederacy was first celebrated on this date in 1891 and annually since 1899, it has only been an official holiday since 1994.
We had planned a hike to Leglerhütte which sits at 2,273 meters above sea level and is a restaurant / hotel up in the Alps in Glarus – the area is known as a wildlife sanctuary where if you are lucky you can see a few alpine animals.
We caught the cable car at Kies-Mettmen up to Mettmenalp which sits at 1.600 meters so our hike for the day was going to take us up some 600 metres. At Mettmenalp, there is a beautiful water reservoir called Stausee Garichti. The water was so clear and calm it is a paradise on its own. There are a couple of routes you can take up to Leglerhütte and we decided to go with the one that started with a short, sharp uphill. We had another route option after we got to the top of this section – the first one would have taken us down 500 meters and back up again or you could just continue upwards – you can guess which one we took 😊.
The views were stunning and I enjoyed the landscape. As we got into the pre Alps the vegetation changed and we came across some snow / ice which was fun to walk across.
We enjoyed some lunch at the Leglerhütte – we had a traditional soup called Bunder Gerstensuppe or Swiss Barley Soup. Karin & Elvis said it was definitely not up to standard and I thought it lacked flavour so that was a shame. We had a delicious summer fruit pastry wth whipped cream to make ourselves feel better 😋.
Because we were up at 2,273 metres, the clouds kept rolling in and out so the views were constantly changing. We re traced our steps back down for a while before branching off to take a different route back to Mettmenalp. We found this big cave which had a fast flowing river flowing through it so decided to take a short cut through it which added to our adventure.
It was a beautiful day and I just loved all the nature that we were seeing. We took a small detour once we got back to the Stausee Garicht and came across a nice stream where we took our boots off and soaked our feet – man it felt good.
There was an information board next to the stream that referred to a Swiss doctor called Max Bircher-Benner whose theory of life was based on harmony between people and nature. He was also the guy who invented Bircher Muesli.
Bircher-Benner was born in 1867 and attended Zurich University to study medicine and then opened a general clinic. During the first year the clinic was open, Bircher-Benner came down with jaundice, and he claimed he became well again by eating raw apples. From this observation, he experimented with the health effects raw foods have on the body, and from this he promoted muesli, a dish based on raw oats, fruits, and nuts. Bircher-Benner expanded on his nutritional research and opened a sanatorium called “Vital Force” in 1897.
He believed raw fruits and vegetables held the most nutritional value, cooked and commercially processed foods held even less, and meat held the least nutritional value. Eventually, Bircher-Benner gave up meat entirely and became a vegetarian. Other scientists of the time did not respond well to what Bircher-Benner referred to as his “new food science,” but the general public caught on to his ideas to the point where he had to expand his sanatorium practice. His nutritional habits and eating patterns steadily grew in popularity until he died on January 24, 1939 in Zürich at the age of 71.
Bircher-Benner’s work was not recognized by other scientists until the discovery of vitamins in fruits and vegetables in the 1930s.
Even though the level of processed food would have been fairly low back in those times, how ahead of the game was Dr Bircher-Benner?
We caught the cable car back down to where we had parked the car and went back to Karin’s parents to enjoy a coffee and some treats under the shade of the trees in the backyard – it had been such a lovely day.
That evening we had a BBQ and waited for it to get dark so we could watch all the fireworks and bonfires which is a tradition on Swiss National Day. On all the mountains that were surrounding us we could see bonfires – we got the binoculars out so we could take a closer look. All the neighbours come out into the street and it was quite a festive atmosphere.
The next day we headed back to Buochs – we took the Pragel Pass which is a mountain pass joining the cantons of Glarus & Schwyz. Unfortunately it was raining and cloudy so we didn’t see the best of the Pass. We did stop and pick wild blueberries though – we accessed these off the side of the road – knowing how expensive they can be in NZ, how good is that 😊.
My last two days in Switzerland were lovely and sunny so we enjoyed a couple of nice walks by the lake, a couple of lake swims, paddle boarding and mojitos by the pool. It was such a lovely way to finish off my trip with all my favourite things. Big thanks to Karin & Elvis for the creation of many more wonderful memories. It was then time to say ‘until next time’ 👋 😘.