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September trip to Switzerland!


(When these pictures are posted, and you'd like to have a copy of the picture, simply right-click on the enlargement and "save picture as")
 

Tuesday, September 11 - Sunday, September 16Click here for an enlargement

Early Tuesday morning we drove to the train station in the nearby town of Terontola, where we boarded the 7:10 train to click here for enlargementMilan, and then on to Zurich.  It was a fine, clear morning, a great day for a train trip!  If you have not experienced train travel in Europe,Click here for an enlargement you must understand that while the rest of western Europe has beautiful, shiny, clean trains, Italy chooses to continue to roll out their 1940's-era-looking battered trains.   But we got a Click here for an enlargementgreat deal on our tickets ~ 169 euros (about $200) for 2 round trip tickets to Zurich.  So no problem; let's go!Click here for an enlargement

Along the way to Zurich our train stopped at Lake Como, just south of the Swiss border.  Apparently this area is Click here for an enlargementso exclusive and expensive because Gearge Clooney ownes a place on the lake somewhere.  We didn't see George at the train station, so we cannot substantiate Lake Como's supposed claim to fame.  But it was a gorgeous sunnyClick here for an enlargement day, so it sure looked like a lovely area.

   Leaving Italy, we began to see a very distinct change in climate and landscape, as we left the dry & brown fields and low hills of Italy and Click here for an enlargementascended into the lush green mountain passes of Switzerland.  There were also dozens of tunnels through the mountains, and every time we emerged from a tunnel, the hillsides seemed greener and the mountain peaks more stunningly beautiful.  Click here for an enlargement

 The trip took us 9 hours on the train, and we arrived in Zurich at 4:30pm, where we changed trains again for a 20-minute ride to the city of Winterthur, just northeast of Zurich.  In Winterthur Click here for an enlargementwe were met at the station by Kirkor Kurtcuoglu, a friend of Robert's from their college days as engineering students at Ole' Miss.   Kirkorclick here for an enlargement drove us to his home in a quiet area of Winterthur, where they have lived for more than 30 years.  They bought half of this beautiful building, and they rent out apartments on the top and bottom floors, and they reside on the middle two floors.  At the back of the click here for an enlargementhouse Kirkor keeps a garden, with apple and pear trees, grapes, blackberries & raspberries, tomatoes, zucchini, and other assorted goodies.  The fruit was all perfectly ripe, and we especially enjoyed the crisp ripe pears right off the tree.  Yum! Click here for an enlargement They also have a kiwi vine that grows up the north side of the house.  They harvest the kiwis in November, and store Click here for an enlargementthem in the basement, where they maintain their freshness all winter long!  So cool!  Across the street from their front door is a beautiful old fountain that flows continuously from a spring.  We actuallyClick here for an enlargement saw these fountains all over Switzerland.  It's as if they are saying, "we Click here for an enlargementhave so much good fresh water we can't keep it from bubbling up along every street!"  Also near Kirkor's home is a rose garden, which we noticed while we were out walking the followingClick here for an enlargement afternoon.  We also noticed a unique BMW scooter parked downtown, complete with it's own roof!Click here for an enlargement

   But we're getting ahead of ourselves.  On Wednesday morning, Kirkor & his adorable wife Ursula decided to show us one of their favorite areas of Switzerland:  the Gotthard Pass.  So we piled intoClick here for an enlargement their van and rode south to the town of Wassen, where we turned Click here for an enlargementwest and headed into the mountains.   We made several stops along the way, to see Lake Guk (Guk means "lake" in German, or so I'm told), and several small waterfalls along the road on the wayclick here for an enlargement up Gotthard Pass.  Ursula had told us that the summer had been Click here for an enlargementvery cool and rainy, which made this weather of clear blue skies seem even more rare and wonderful.

It seemed that everywhere we looked were beautiful mountains, rivers, trails, and people.  Jeanie sounded as excited as a schoolgirlClick here for an enlargement on a field trip. Another thing we really appreciated was that our hosts seemed to enjoy the experience as much as we did.  And they Click here for an enlargementhad done this tour a few times before ….  There were mountain streams flowing between the rocks around every turn, and Robert taste-tested the water a few times to confirm that it was snow melt. 

As noon approached, we topped the first pass, Sustenpass, at 2200 meters.  We stopped here for a picnic Ursula had prepared among boulders, grass and a pond ofClick here for an enlargement water.  As if on cue, as we began our lunch a local man on a nearby hill began blowing on an alphorn, like in the “Ricola” commercials.  We kidded with Kirkor that he had set that up for our enjoyment exceptionally well.

After lunch we continued our drive, and Robert kept thinking, why haven’t the Click here for an enlargementSwiss taken advantage of all this water power potential … and suddenly there it was, an enormous three-level hydro facility way up in the mountains!  We got out and explored the Grimsel Dam,click here for an enlargement and then drove on above it.  As we crossed near the next dam, we noticed there was a large stone island with a road connecting to it, and a hotel and restaurant right in the middle!  There were actually several hotels and restaurants at the top of Grimselpass, as it was a very popular stopping point for the hundreds of motorcyclists who come here to enjoy the winding mountain roads and scenery.  We stopped at a little place for tea and hot click here for an enlargementapple cider, or “appelpunch”, and although the sun was still warming us, a cool windclick here for an enlargement was beginning to cool things down, too.

We then continued down the pass toward the town of Andermatt.  We reached a bridge which is famous as the point where the Russians stopped Napoleon’s French army in 1799.  Thousands were killed in this bloody battle, and there is a Russian memorial built into the stone. The remclick here for an enlargementains of the oldClick here for an enlargement “Devil’s Bridge” (Teufel’s Brucke) are still there, next to the waterfall, below the newer bridge.  By now the sun had set behind the hills, and the temperature dropped from the 60’s into the 40’s.  We decided this might be a good place to stop for dinner, and we met the man who manages the restaurant.  Indeed, he rents the buildingclick here for an enlargement for six months every summer, does all the cooking and cleaning by himself (he click here for an enlargementhas one helper on busy summer evenings), and then in November he travels to Thailand and works for six months in a golf resort!  Well, the food was OK, but the real beauty of it was when the manager offered the keys for us to tour the inside, the “belly”click here for an enlargement of the newer arched bridge.  So after dinner we unlocked the gate, flipped on the click here for an enlargementlights, and explored the infrastructure of the new Teufel’s Brucke.  Robert and Kirkor got on their hands and knees and crawled through the narrow center of the arch to the other side… fun for two engineers! click here for an enlargement

The next morning Jeanie’s place at the breakfast click here for enlargementtable was decorated with presents and cards … a birthday to celebrate… #40!  That day we went off to see Rheinfall, a waterfall near the German border.  It was beautiful and clean, spectacular for being such a heavily usedClick here for an enlargement waterway.  Industries along the Rhein have done a lot of work to clean the river, and the result is spectacular.  And Click here for an enlargementeven today, they take a side stream and run water through hydro generators.  There are also ferries that take tourists from the viewing area to the rock outcropping in the center of the waterfall, to get that fullClick here for an enlargement "misty" experience.  We enjoyed seeing the old Click here for an enlargementwaterwheel, the delicate tropical foliage, and even a watergate!  (Now I know where that word comes from.) The statistics of the falls are there (in six different languages!) to impress you … if you’re interested.Click here for an enlargement

Next we’re off to the lovely old city of Stein am Rhein, celebrating it’s 1000th year.  Most of the Click here for an enlargementbuildings along the main promenade here date back to the 14th and 15th centuries, and many are decorated with intricate and elaborate paintings.  We tried toClick here for an enlargement capture some of the art work painted on many of the buildings, but the lighting just didn’t allow it.  We Click here for an enlargementdid catch sight of one “little beauty”, and she agreed to pose for us. 

On Friday night our hosts had an existing engagement, so our evening was hosted by Kirkor’s brother HaritClick here for an enlargementun and his wife Rozita.  Haritun also knew Robert from their daysClick here for an enlargement of studying engineering at the university in Mississippi, so this was another happy reunion.  Midway through dinner we were joined by Andy, a friend of their family.  Andy works in software and was very bright and engaging, and they were all great fun to talk with.  Click here for an enlargement

On Saturday morning we’re off again with Kirkor and Ursula, Click here for an enlargementthis time to the mountains around the town of Appenzell.  It is known for it’s herbal liquors, breads and fruit-filled pastries, and lovely gift shops … a tourist destination!  You can buy cow bells, just like all the Swiss cows wear up in the mountains!  Only $75.  Haha.Click here for an enlargement

Click here for an enlargementWe then explored the valley below Mtn. Santis, another popular area with the motorcyclists and tour busses, with a lodge, a cheese-making factory, and gondolas taking passengers up to the summit, where we could see snow on the rock face.  Leaving there, we headed forClick here for an enlargement Brulisau, and a gondola ride over the green hillsides, up among the parasailers, to the summit where the air is thin and Click here for an enlargementwe could look out between the clouds, down over the Rhein, 1,000 meters below us, into Austria!  Amazing! 

We’ve done so much in just four days with our wonderful hosts, it is really humbling how they’ve taken the time to do so much with us, and with such good humor and love.  And to cap off this wonderful visit, they took us outClick here for an enlargement for a great dinner at the beautiful Adler Restaurant, and from there back home, where we had a good a sleep and woke early, thoroughly refreshed, and ready for another 7am train ride, back to our house-sitting home in Italy!

~ Robert & Jeanie 


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