Monday, July 9, 2007


The day started fine and clear and fortunately continued that way as we headed up Mount Pilatus by cog railway, with gradients sometimes in the high 40s.

Spectacular views (photo) all around at the top but especially towards the Jungfrau and company. We take a few of the walks on the top and then head down by cable car and gondola to Krienz.

The coach picks us up here and we head for the centre of Lucerne where traffic is disrupted by a labour demonstration (photo). We take a long look at the colourful march, along with the better known sights, including the wooden Chapel Bridge and we also do some shopping.

The Lion monument (photo) of Lucerne, a magnificent sculpture of a dying lion, is also visited. It commemorates the mercenary Swiss guard of Marie Antoinette who were decimated in the overthrow of the Royal family in France.

Then on to a cruiser for a trip along the length of the lake. Scenic views on both sides, a glass of the local beer (Eichhof) goes down nicely.

We re-join the bus (and the passengers who didn't take the cruise but who spent the extra time shopping) and head back to the hotel in Engelberg, reaching it in the late afternoon.

All together then for the final (included) dinner in the hotel where (because of the varying departure times in the morning) many goodbyes are said.

SATURDAY: Our own wake-up call is 5.30am and one hour later (after coffee in the hotel and with a food bag under our arm), we are on the coach for Zurich and arrive at the airport in fairly good time for the 9.35am take-off to Dublin.

Avoid the long queues by using the self-service check-in but flight is delayed because of a puncture. Further delays in Dublin (parking not immediately available and our own luggage is very slow in arriving) means we have little time to catch the Ryanair flight to Cork (1.10pm).

Security is busy (particularly so because of the incident in Glasgow airport on the previous day) and we have to jog along the corridors. Optimism was fading - we had been told we wouldn’t make it – but to our surprise we find the Cork flight hasn’t even begun boarding. So we make it after all and arrive at Cork airport about 14.20, just 20 minutes behind schedule, glad to be back after a hugely enjoyable holiday.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Drove away from Interlaken today along a bank of Lake Brienz to the small town of the same name. First stop was a long-standing woodcarving workshop in the town. We had an impressive guided tour and were shown everything from valuable masterpieces (photo) to little knick-knacks.

The major stop was at the folk park of Ballenberg (photo) where full size (actual) Swiss buildings from different styles and eras are situated (having been moved from their original locations).

It covers some fifty acres and includes animals and plants (some varieties a blast from the past). We even met a young man who had come with his mother to see the family home that had been donated to this vast outdoor museum.

Following lunch in Ballenberg and some time watching a dozen or so hang-gliders performing over the high hills nearby, we head for Engelberg (the mountain of the angels) but first a stop above the picturesque lake of Lugern for some photos. We continue through “William Tell” country, passing through Lucerne and then up the valley to Engelberg.

Check into the Ramada Hotel. After a short break, we are bussed to the local Benedictine church, a Baroque Rococo building that contains one of Europe’s largest pipe organs (which is being tuned in, somewhat noisily as you’d expect, during our visit).

Now we take horse drawn carriages (photo) through the quiet outskirts of the town. It had been billed as a wine tasting but turns out to be a slow paced drive to an outlying bar-restaurant where we all have a drink before retuning to the town and a visit to the Benedictine monastery where we are given a guided tour.

First though, calls of nature must be answered (after the beer and wine). The gents are directed to a facility which has St Barbara over the door but the ladies restroom hasn’t been assigned a saint and is marked simply WC.

The local guide explains the monastery was inadvertently burned down by students in the early 1730s and rebuilt in the following years.

The handicrafts of the monks are on show. One is an accomplished painter but the star is a craftsman called Columban whose specialty was woodworking.

An inlaid chessboard was one of his gems but he is best remembered for marquetry and one full room, all four walls decorated by him, gives ample evidence of his skills.

No dinner included this evening. The town is very quiet by comparison with Interlaken and most eating-places are closed – it probably comes alive in winter. SM recommends a Pizzeria (Bierlialp) near to the hotel and, for 78.50 SFR, we enjoy two pizzas (Hawaii and Quarto Stagio), a 50cl bottle of red Dole and desserts.


Today’s highlight is the cogwheel train trip to the Top of Europe (photo). The Jungfrau Railway takes us to Europe’s highest altitude railway station at 3500m approx. The final stage up is on a 108m lift, which makes the trip in 11 smooth seconds. The weather isn’t the best at the very top (photo) but we do get glimpses of the terrain and get out for a few steps on the glacier. You have to take the mountains as you find them.

Back down the lift then and into the famous ice palace, carved into the glacier. Temperature is minus two degrees but it is easy to walk around and view the chambers and the ice sculptures.

The journey down takes a different route and we end up in Lauterbrunnen, the Valley of the Waterfalls. We transfer to the bus and travel a short distance to see the spectacular Trummelback Falls (photo), where melt water tumbles down from the mountains (where we have been this morning) to start a river in the valley. We go up the falls in a funicular (11 SFR) and walk down to the bus and back to the hotel.

Head out for a meal this evening, looking for Rosti and veal in particular. Find it as part of the Menu of the Day at the Ambiance Restaurant (part of the local Splendid Hotel).

The menu consists of some six courses: salad, barley soup, cheese tart, rosti and veal (in a mushroom sauce), a chocolate dessert and coffee. Add in wine (18.50 SFR) and water (5.50 SFR) and the bill comes to 101.40 SFR or about sixty EURO.

Down then to the Marketplatz to listen to the closing section of a folk music concert, mainly music from a brass band, including a feature of Alpen horn and flag throwing.

On the way back to the hotel, the inevitable happens and we buy a Swiss knife (the 14 feature Hunter version). Including engraving, it costs 32 SFR.


Straight after breakfast, we board the Glacier Express (photo) at the local St Moritz station (1775m).

The first half of our 4 hour plus journey takes us downhill to Chur (585m). After that, it is uphill to Disentis (1130m, Romanch speaking). A change of rail company now and also a change of engine type to cog wheel. The train continues upwards to Oberalp Pass (2033m) and then zigzags down to Andermatt (our get off stop).

Through the ample panoramic windows, we see snow covered maintain tops, waterfalls, the Rhine river in its early stages and other Alpine scenery (including Heidi type countryside).

We bring sandwiches on board but they do serve food and drink, though at a slow pace and, eventually, they do come back for payment. There is also a souvenir service on board and we buy a picture album type book, as it is hard to get photos because the windows don't open and are full of reflections on this fine sunny day.

The coach collects at Andermatt for a drive through the Susten Pass. We are still high in the Alps (c 2259m) and the trip is spectacular (photo). More stunning valleys and mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers as we go through and we see cattle grazing on the narrowest of mountain ledges, sheep being fed, a couple of marmots (they live above the tree line - photo above) and also quite a lot of repair and improvement activity in the high roads.

Then we descend to Interlaken (past a waterfall, associated with the “death” of Sherlock Holmes) and to the antique hotel – the Royal St Georges, where we are personally welcomed by the manager,

Our table for a fairly presentable (included) dinner in the hotel has Americans, South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders and ourselves. It is a good mix and we enjoy it – I hope you all bought those CRH shares. A carafe of local wine costs 17 SFR.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


Move from Lugano up to St Moritz. Foggy start. First stop for “the people that come on Mondays” is at Sufers –photo of lake left. Then on to Viamala Schlucht (Bad Way Gorge) – spectacular gorge and remains of Roman trail.

Next “photo-op” is a viaduct, which the Glacier Express (our trip tomorrow) traverses; this is also in the middle of “Heidi country”.

Into St Moritz then and Hotel Monopol. Lunch, at a nearby bakery, consists of a sandwich and pastry each. Pot of tea and a pot of coffee bring the cost to 37 SFR.

SM brings us on a short walk around the lake. Then we board the bus to the local train station and get on the Bernina Express. Even though the train passes a double glacier and some waterfalls, the trip is slightly disappointing.

In fact, the return trip by bus is better as regards spectacular views. We also come across a mobile milking parlour (photo above) at a high altitude point on the Swiss Italian border.
The amount of tourists from the far east is a surprise to us. They are well catered for, Japanese assistants in the shops and multi-lingual signs (photo on left).

Back at the hotel, we enjoy a “happy hour” with Angie (Scottish barperson) and the hour after a decent meal in the hotel dining room is happy enough also.


Back to Italy this morning, to Cannobio in particular for its Sunday market (photo) on the banks of Maggiore. Euros fly out of the wallet as we buy leather goods including, ironically, a new wallet.

SM says you have to bargain here. I finger a belt at a stall and a woman leans over and whispers: “Peeton! It is Peeton. Fifty euro.” I smile (best smile on the coach, I was told on the last night) and say Ciao Bella. She replies: “Thirty euro for you.” Deal done and I walk off with my python skin belt.

We also buy lunch: some beautiful black cherries, foccacio sandwiches (Cheese and salad) and a bottle of Pinot Grigio (€9.80).

On the way back to Lugano, we make a stop and stroll around a Swiss mini-world (photo), though the star exhibit is Milan cathedral (a walk through version).

Back to the hotel then where we enjoy our bought lunch on the balcony, overlooking Lake Lugano. The Pinot Grigio, from the Trentino region, is absolutely lovely, tarty and sparkly. Must see if we can get something similar in Ireland.

The Pinot is sadly finished so time now for a stroll through the lakeside trees, past the fountains (photo), to the park at the other end of town.

Walked to a nearby Pizzeria (improbably named Cecil’s) for our evening meal. Learning from the previous evening, we skip the starter and go straight for the main course. Each of us gets a pizza but Clare gets a surprise as her one is doubled over, with a huge mound in the middle. She hasn't had a Calzone before!

However, with the aid of a carafe of local Merlot, both are polished off, leaving ample room for dessert. We leave the normal ice cream menu aside and, picking from the main menu, order pineapple and Kirsch and get plenty of each. It makes a pleasant and unusual end to the meal.


Down to the “flat” today, via nearby Visp (hometown of FIFA’s Blatter). First stop is on the Simplon Pass. Photos taken here include the Stone Eagle (below, commemorating the Swiss soldiers who guarded the pass during the Second World War) and cattle being driven up to the higher meadows (alm).

Main lunchtime call was to Lago Maggiore (above) in Italy. Lake is 40 plus miles long and five wide. Very scenic – loads of photos, including a few of newly married couple (above).

Only bum note here was a salty unsatisfactory beef sandwich at a recommended Irish pub in Stressa. Draught Harp lager didn't taste much good either. Should have done our own thing.

Then on to Lugano but, first, a traffic jam in Varese had to be endured. It was a longish day in the bus. Coming close to Lugano, we made a stop to buy chocolate at a factory outlet.

The Eden is a five star luxury Hotel, including an expensive lakeside dining area. We head up the street to Pizzeria Mary (another of SM’s recommendations). For 64 Euro, we get a bottle of water, a 50cl carafe of house white, 2 salads, 2 big pizzas, 2 “custard” cakes and 2 coffees. All very enjoyable.

Walked back down the lakeside, met and sat with a US couple (M and C) from the tour as a local band played on the quay. Then walked back to hotel with T and C.

Friday, July 6, 2007


Today, we take the optional trip up to the Little (Kleine) Matterhorn by a series of gondolas and cable cars. One longish stop for coffee and “acclimatisation” (photo below, with St Bernard) and then on to the viewing point on top @ 3838m. Not much to be seen (photo below) as the weather has closed in completely but, on the way down, visibility improves and we have good views of the Little Matterhorn, into Italy (photo above), and of Monte Rosa (the highest mountain in Switzerland, second highest in Europe).

Get off at one of the lower stations and walk back to Zermatt with our New Zealand companions (C and G). It is an easy walk (approx 45 minutes) but not very picturesque, though we do see a squirrel. We earlier saw some marmots, from the cable car.

In Zermatt, we stop at a street corner vendor, buy a bratwurst and bread, along with Cardinal beer, (18 SFR for the two of us) and eat it, while sharing a windowsill with others. Back to Hotel then for a cup of coffee, collecting our Matterhorn photos on the way.

Take it easy for an hour or so in Hotel before walking up town again, checking the shops (and restaurants for tonight). Nothing much bought except a few cans of Cardinal at 1.35 SFR each. Polish off the beer while viewing the Matterhorn (clouds are shifting) from the balcony.

Done enough walking for the day so decide to have the five-course meal on offer at the hotel: crayfish terrine, lentil soup, salad, beef paillard and dessert (at a cost of 48 SFR each). Friendly proprietor has time for a chat and the meal is very enjoyable, more so because of a bottle of Dole red from Sion (38 SFR). Back early to room to pack for 8.15 departure tomorrow.

The Longest Day

Thunderstorms have continued into the night and, now at 8.00am, there is quite a deluge in Villars. Rain had eased but hadn’t stopped by the time we reached Martigny and its Roman remains but had cleared on arrival at Sion, which is, apparently, ruled by an oligarchy (the bourgeoisie).

Sion, a wine growing area (photo above) in the Rhone valley, goes back to Roman times. Later it was ruled by the bishops (who supplied the Pope with the first Swiss Guards). Later again, the local merchants got a say in civic affairs. Signs of the rule of the Bishops remain on two hills overlooking the town.

We have been following in the footsteps of Hannibal and Napoleon and now SM announces an unrelated surprise for us in the small town of Raron. The church, St Michael’s on the Rock, towers over the town but churchgoers must walk up to it.

In the late 60s, attendances in this strongly religious area began to drop off, parishioners finding it easier to drive to nearby churches. All this was related to us as we approached the rock.

A few of us thought the surprise might be a lift to the top. But it is much more: another church built inside the Rock, St Michael's in the Rock (photo). For this was the novel solution thought up by the parish council after many frustrating meetings.

Now we climb up towards Zermatt (1600m plus). The bus has to park about 2 miles out and local mini-buses take over and, just at the edge of the town, we are transferred to eco friendly electric taxis, the only people transport allowed. All proceeds quickly and soon we are installed in the Alpen Rosen Hotel.

Luckily, we get a balcony facing the Matterhorn (photo above), which soon begins to lose most of the light cloud surrounding its peak and shortly about 95 per cent of the peak itself is visible, though the picture is a varying one.

The town has one main street and SM takes us on an orientation walk, points out a few items of interest (including places to eat, the graves of the mountaineers, the statue of Whymper, credited with the first climb of the Matterhorn, even though they were eight in the party, which met tragedy on the descent).

Dinner tonight in the hotel is billed as a highlight meal and doesn’t disappoint. It is my first experience of the Swiss dish Raclette. Melted cheese is dropped on to a small plate, already populated with a few small potatoes, a gherkin and a piece of tomato. You can get a refill as soon as you finish. If you get too much cheese in one go, it will harden before you can eat it.

The dessert is very small but packs a punch. Apricots are in season and they are served with an “abricotine”, a spirit (with a kick) made from the fruit. It goes down well as the longest day of the year comes to a close.


Downhill on a very warm day (30 plus), all the way along the shore of Lake Geneva to the city itself, which is at the far (western) end. But first a stop at Nyon to see a pretty (small) park, the centrepiece of which is the sparse remains of a Roman temple (left).

Then follows a tour of Geneva’s international area, which contains offices of the UN (including UNICEF, UNHCR), the World Health Organisation, the World Labour Organisation and so on. All are convenient to the airport and most have beautiful parks and gardens. Not to mention perks – one shop invited diplomats in for duty free shopping.

Next halt was the park, which contains the Wall of the Reformation (above) where the “heroes” of the movement are honoured. Calvin is the main man here – he made the making of money okay but had a problem with the spending to if.

The movement, like the Taliban, tried to ban music and wine but succeeded in neither quest and, ironically, Cromwell’s statue in the wall is the unwitting centre point in a stage being set up for a concert this evening.

Neither Calvin nor Cromwell would have approved and neither would have blessed the statue in Montreux of Freddie Mercury.

But before we get to the Queen singer, we had other things to do on the lakeside at Geneva, such as see the jet d’eau (above) and the floral clock (the latter more or less replicated in Montreux).

The tour director takes most of the group on a riverside walk and to lunch in the self-service of a local supermarket but we two walk along the southern shore until level with the impressive 500-foot fountain. Time then for lunch. We sit down at a modest establishment on the lakeshore where two chicken and mozzarella paninis (toasted), along with two bottles of apple juice, cost us 25 SFR.

Back to the bus and we drive to Lausanne where we board a boat and enjoy a beer and a relaxing hour or so talking, mainly to a New Zealand couple (C and G).

Freddie Mercury comes up in the conversation as we land at Montreux and SM tells us where the statue is. We stride down to it while the others are boarding the bus – and on the way spot the Smoke on the Water plaque -, take the photos and return to the coach.

A thundershower accompanies us on the short trip up to Villars but it is dry again by the time we reach the hotel where we have our included evening meal. Bookings and payment made for optional tours (we take them all as we may not be this way again), all followed by a drink in the bar and a conversation with our multi-lingual driver, who reveals that he regularly visits Ireland on cycling trips.

Thursday, July 5, 2007


Climbing today, Mont Blanc in the French distance as we reached the first photo stop, Le Col de la Croix.
On then to Les Diablerets and its dark story of the devils taking over the valley and destroying the bucolic life of the peasants. Nowadays, the peasants are back in force operating, among many other things, the many ski-lifts in the area, notably to the year round skiing on the Glacier 3000, but a glacier that apparently will not be there in 3000 – Global Warming, the Devils’ Return!

Then on to the village of Gsteig (the G is silent) and its pretty shingle roofed church. “Like a witch’s hat,” according to our guide.

Cheese is very much on the menu today as the one street, maybe one product, town of Gruyere is the lunch stop. But there are fabulous views, a church and a chateau.

And also a strange museum – based on the film Alien. The HG Giger Museum is based on the work of the graphic artist of the same name, who did the special effects for the film and others (such as Poltergeist 11).

A similarly themed bar (thirsty alien babies above) is adjacent and it was here that we had coffee and minuscule meringues made with Gruyere. Then a short drive downhill to an “industrial” cheese manufacturer where a robot is usefully employed turning, watering and replacing big wheels of cheese in the racks.

Just to backtrack here, between Gsteig and Gruyere, we also stopped at what the guide terms the “chichi-Mickey” town of Gstaad (again the G is silent). Plenty of banks and jewellers but a quick inspection showed you could get a meal at a reasonable price and, while some clothes were undoubtedly expensive, ladies jeans were on offer at 20 SFR. Pas mal!

Optional evening (5.15pm) bus trip down to Lac Leman (Lake Geneva), along the shore via Montreux to the Olympic Park (pic above) on waterfront at Lausanne. Good views of the lake here. Walked through the park and saw the sculptures (supplied by various affiliates of the OM) and also the Olympic flame (from which the torch for each games is lit).

Welcome drinks on a table near the building entrance. But not for us! Apparently, past vice presidents are on their way.

We too are soon on our way, uphill to old Lausanne and, in particular, to its oldest building which houses our restaurant, the Grutli. Here we enjoy a salade Nicoise as starter. Then, the highlight (photo above), a fondue, not with cheese, but with the best of beef, which is cooked in hot oil at the table. Delicious! All accompanied by a decent bottle of local Cotes du Rhone. Dessert is in-season strawberries and, of course, cream.

Courier SM has the bus in stitches on the way home by playing, believe it or not, old Hal Roach jokes. Some are painfully dated but we really enjoy the tapes.




Sunday 17 Jun 07

A smooth flight from Cork to Dublin on Ryanair, then smooth also to Zurich on Swiss. Complimentary food served on board: a small roll with salami filling plus a drink (tea, coffee, juice …) and also a small bar of chocolate.

In Zurich, meet Hotel shuttle between adjacent terminals 1 and 2 (between arrivals A and B). Bus full but another soon came and took us to the Movenpic Airport. Room spacious and comfortable.

Met with Tour Director (SM) and the other tourists, all 40 of us from English speaking countries: US, Oz, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, UK and a few (6) from Ireland.

We had a meal with the only other Irish couple (T and C) in the hotel. The ladies each had Rostie with Veal while I had Chicken breast on hot stone, still cooking as it arrived on table, accompanied by tomato and cheese, corn on the cob, fries, butter sauce and barbecue dip.

Our own meal (we both started with a tomato and basil soup), which included two pichets of white house wine, came to 95 SFR.

Up early for breakfast (huge selection of hot and cold buffet). Then off to Bern, the capital (pop. 140,000). First stop is the rose-garden (with a view of the old town, grouped around the church). Then a call to see the European Brown bear (pictured above, in the confines of the pit) from which the town gets its name.

Parked by the federal parliament buildings (under restoration), by the big square from a section of which periodically and apparently, unexpectedly, spout water fountains, which can drench the unsuspecting tourist and willing local kid alike.

Back to the top of the main street to see the hardly exciting (but rather ancient and certainly well visited mechanical clock and its figurines, active on the hour), followed by a stroll down the flag be-decked main street.

Back then to the coach and off to Murten. A quick spot of lunch and then a little walking tour, highlights of which are a view of the lake, the story of the failed siege of the town that finished off would-be invader Charles the Bold and then a walk along the ramparts (photo above) that his forces failed to take.

Now a change of plan and a visit to and tour of Chillon Castle where an enthusiastic local guide gave an irreverent account of the religious follies that made its history, with some reference to the “hippy” Lord Byron (who carved his name on one of the pillars). Bryon was one of the unwitting pioneers of Euro tourism and wrote a once famous poem about a prisoner in Chillon. The lakeside castle is also credited with having inspired Mary Shelly to write Frankenstein.

From Lake Geneva, we climb up to Villars (1400 metres) and the Hotel du Golf where we enjoy a very tasty (if not very large ) dinner and afterwards enjoy a bottle of Swiss beer in the bar (Le Green). Price note: 1 bottle of beer and 1 glass of wine cost SFR 8.20 (about 5.00 euro).