Adelboden cont. - Completing the challenge
Once Giselle and Tee had finished their community service we set off for a walk to find a stream they could immerse their feet in for 5 seconds (this was optional and no doubt much more popular in the summer months). They also had to talk to a Swiss person and find out three facts about Switzerland. Both tasks completed, Tee went back to the chalet and Giselle and I continued walking, heading toward Adelboden. The walk was a bit fraught with black ice and general slipperiness, I slipped over on my backside a couple of times but no harm done. We got as far as a supermarket which wasn’t open and headed back. On the way saw people paragliding, a small ski run next door to an indoor bowling/curling/ice skating centre, and many people out with dogs. I got very hot on the walk back up the hill, amazingly so given the temperature hasn’t got above 1 all day, but it has been very still and sunny, actually perfect weather.
Dinner Christmas night was another good meal, more like our regular Christmas lunch with cold meats, salads, devilled eggs, also leftover beans from yesterday and some very yummy desserts, chocolate mousse cake and lemon tart amongst other things.
The hike to the magic tree was fun, a bit more challenging than I expected, mostly because of the icy conditions. It was great having a hiking pole, it made dealing with the slippery conditions much less fraught. Ashley and Corina who were leading the walk got a bit lost/unsure of the best route due to the snow and ice and had to call in back-up from Tanya, the Our Chalet manager. We may have walked a little further than we had to but it was all good fun. The magic tree is over 500 years old and is hollow inside, big enough for at least four people to get inside. Remarkably it is still alive. We lit candles and made wishes. Giselle and Tee were presented with their Our Chalet challenge badges.
A bus, two trains and a tram later we found our lodgings in Zurich. Pension Kafischnapps is above a cafe of the same name, the cafe would not be out of place in any trendy area of Melbourne and seems popular. The room is simple but nice, with toilet and shower shared with the other four rooms.
Giselle’s friend Anik came and met us at the cafe while we had lunch. She took us into the old town, to the church, GrossMunster, where we paid to climb the tower. Excellent views across Zurich and Anik was able to point out areas of interest. The church had some very interesting windows, some made of cross sections of gemstones, I bought a postcard of one, Giselle bought a booklet about all the windows.
We saw the Opera House, the river and top of the lake. There were many people out and about even though the shops were all shut. The Polybahn, a funicular railway, was also shut - a disappointment! We saw several Christmas markets that were in the process of being dismantled. In Germany I got the impression that the markets continue until early January, perhaps the 6th (12 days of Christmas) but not here.
We walked up some of the main shopping street, Bahnhoffstrasse, where there were many big name shops - Tiffany, Jimmy Choo, Versace etc. We diverted up to a small park with a good view over the lake and also into one of the better chocolate shops, extraordinary prices - 6.50 (about $9) for a 50g block for example.
Anik left us to catch our tram back to the hotel. After a bit of quiet time in the room we went back out and had pizza at a very small restaurant where the chef/waiter didn’t seem to speak any English although I could hear some Italian, French and German. It didn’t matter, we had a decent meal - two pizzas and one glass of wine for 41 francs. Cash only!
Today Giselle headed off a bit before 10am to catch two trams to meet Anik, I had a little trepidation about her going off on her own, crazy because I wouldn’t think twice about it at home.
I had arranged to meet up with a friend I'd only previously known online through my studies. Grethe and her husband, Colmar, picked me up at 10.30 as arranged, we started talking and didn’t stop all day! About our work, study, about Switzerland and Australia - it was lovely. They drove us out into the countryside but the weather wasn’t great, clouds were very low or perhaps were even fog most of the time so it was difficult to discern the mountains from the lakes. Apparently there is much less snow than is usual for this time of the year and we went past one lake that Grethe said is usually frozen over by now. I saw a couple of ski jump set-ups that had no snow.
We stopped in Einsiedeln, a small town known for its monastery, the Benedictine Einsiedeln Abbey, which was established in the 10th century. The abbey contains the Black Madonna which apparently is a particular attraction for people who like to pray to such things. There was a service going on so we weren’t able to look around much but it certainly was impressively decorative.
We then drove through the area from where William Tell is reputed to have come and saw his statue/monument in Altdorf.
We stopped there for lunch in a typical Swiss restaurant. I ordered what Grethe and Colmar assured me was the most typical of Swiss dishes - veal with mushrooms in a cream sauce and potato rosti, it was delicious.
I learnt a lot about the Swiss way: their direct democracy meaning they frequently vote on single issues; how their presidency rotates amongst the seven members of the cabinet so they more often than not don’t know who the president is; how the overriding philosophy is to build up the lowest rung of society as this will benefit everyone, and then let capitalism take care of the rest; how much government is very localised, including each city or canton having its own school system which perhaps isn’t for the best; how even very wealthy Swiss live unassuming lives (particularly compared to Germans and Italians who like to flaunt their wealth); how everyone looks down on or makes fun of the Swiss Italians - the Italians, the other Swiss...and much more.
All in all today was one of the highlights of the trip - wonderful to spend time with locals.
Giselle got back an hour or so after I did and we decided we should have fondue for dinner. Headed back into the older part of town that we first walked through with Anik yesterday to a restaurant that specialises in fondue - Raclette-Stube. We had a fairly standard mixed cheese fondue with bread and potatoes and added in some pickles. It’s nice but not something I’d regularly choose as my main meal. I think it would be great for around 6-8 people to share the amount that we were served for two, as a starter.
I'll finish with the view from the back of a Zurich tram.
Merry Christmas everyone! The picture above is from one of the prettier Christmas markets I saw (and I have seen many), this one in Basel.
Giselle has been getting very excited about finally getting to Our Chalet and meeting up with girl-guide types, more so than about Christmas
Right now I'm doing the washing, having already enjoyed a lovely Christmas morning brunch here at Our Chalet. The washing!...yes, well, you have to take advantage of laundry facilities when and where you find them. It is a beautiful morning here in Adelboden but first I need to catch up on Nuremberg and Basel.
An earlyish start in Berlin, to the station to validate our Eurail passes and catch the train. We arrived in Nuremberg soon after midday and luckily were able to check straight into our hotel. We walked through the old town, past the Ehekarussell or Marriage merry-go-round fountain, through an open air mall up to the market square. There was the usual Christmas market going on but also a more standard food market - fruit and vegetables, delicatessen items and so on. We saw the Schöner Brunnen (Beautiful fountain) but it was surrounded by stalls.
At Albrecht Durer’s house we opted for the tour with a guide who portrayed herself as Albrecht’s wife, Agnes . It made the whole experience much more engaging, particularly as she made great effort to engage with us, Giselle especially - she’d asked at the beginning what interest we had in Durer and I said that Giselle was studying art. The house is genuinely medieval being one of the very few buildings that was not damaged beyond repair in WW2. Built in the late 1400s, not by Durer, it looks Tudorish, lots of timber beams, low doorways etc. It was a rich man’s house demonstrated by the extensive windows, made up of lots of small sections. The stories Agnes told about Durer’s life and work were very interesting, particularly how difficult it was back then to make paint and the effort that had to be gone to to get different colours, it makes you wonder that anyone bothered! Durer also created woodcut and copperplate prints and we were treated to demonstrations of both of these being printed, the second by a local artist who makes and sells prints on site.
Next was the Toy Museum which was more extensive than I expected although there was a lot of very similar things for example many very realistic dolls houses and lots of trains, cars and dolls. Not so much post WW2 stuff, was mostly 18th, 19th and early 20th century. Worth a visit.
From there we wandered back through town, to the Handwerkerhof which is a number of craft shops in a medieval setting, supplemented at this time of year with Christmas market stalls. There was a nice glass shop, leather, timber, metal, vintage toys etc. but we didn’t buy anything.
A counter meal! We ate sitting at the bar as the hotel restaurant was fully booked. I had my first schnitzel, finally, and we shared Gingerbread mousse (parfait) and apple strudel with particularly nice vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Two trains to get to Basel, first to Frankfurt and then to Basel. The trains were crowded with people with lots of luggage, heading home for Christmas no doubt. The second train gradually emptied and we had our compartment to ourselves for the last little bit. There are two Basel stations, one in Germany and one in Switzerland. On the map you can see a spot on the edge of town where the borders of Switzerland, Germany and France meet.
Our hotel in Basel is a “smart” motel meaning there are no reception staff, you have to deal with an annoying machine instead. Doesn’t make the room particularly cheap but it is nice and only up one flight of stairs instead of four like in Nuremberg. Swiss plugs are slightly different to other European ones so one of my adaptors won’t fit. When I went to the ATM I was given two 200 franc notes (about $280 Australian each) - I knew I’d have to break one of those before going to the Christmas market we’d walked through so we went into the first random biggish shop to find something to buy. It was an electronics shop so I found a UK to Swiss travel adaptor so I can now put a usb charger into the UK adaptor and put that into the new swiss one. Annoying! Annoying getting such large notes from the ATM but the money is very pretty. The notes are large and quite stiff, difficult to fold into three to go neatly into my wallet.
Basel has a lot of very long trams that only go in one direction - ie there is only a driving compartment at one end, like the trams in Lisbon. In front of the station there are a series of platforms, about 8, with trams coming and going in all directions. What with driving on the right it’s all a bit fraught when trying to cross the road. All hotel guests staying in Basel get a special public transport pass for free public transport - there’s an idea Melbourne!
When we left the hotel we headed to the Museum of Paper, writing and printing. Unfortunately we were too late to go into the museum (the train arrived just before 4pm, by the time we got there it was nearly 4.45) but we had a look at the shop which had a lot of lovely paper and writing things, inks, pens and the like. Also cards, prints, calendars etc. I bought a wood-cut print of Basel and Giselle bought a metal seal (for using with sealing wax). We then walked along the river (the Rhine) toward the old town. We came across Basel Minster, a gothic protestant church with origins dating back to the 9th century. There was a large crowd of people queuing to get in, perhaps a special pre-Christmas service or just the regular Sunday evening, not sure. Beyond the church there was a very pretty Christmas market (pictured at top) but we realised there was no point looking around until I’d been to an ATM for cash. We kept walking along a very pretty cobblestone alley down to a shopping area. We then walked across the Mittlere Brücke, an historic stone bridge. On the other side we found another market, mostly food, which we walked through and then discovered a craft market up a side alley.
By the time we got back to the first Christmas market it was almost 6pm and it seemed all the stalls were packing up! Not sure if this was because tomorrow is Christmas eve or if it is a Sunday thing. Back into the shopping area and walking back toward the station and the hotel, we came upon yet another market area but they were still going strong although some of the food suppliers seemed to be saying that they were selling out what was prepared now and not making more of things.
We bought some candied nuts and Giselle found some sealing wax to go with her seal. Finally back near the station it looked like many cafes and restaurants were already closed. We went into an Asian cafeteria-style restaurant and had a rather expensive very ordinary meal.
Had a bad night’s sleep - between overheated room, despite window open, and noise from outside, because window open, it was a restless night. Woke to fairly steady rain so instead of exploring a bit more of Basel we just had breakfast and hung around in the room until it was time to catch the train.
An hour and a half to Spiez, via Bern. Past a Lindt factory in a town, while between towns the scenery was pure chocolate box. Went through quite a few tunnels and clearly were climbing as my ears popped often. Changed trains at Spiez and again to a bus at Frutigen where it was raining. Bus fare extortionate - 10.40 chf each (about $13), for a trip no further than Macleod into the city, but there was no other option.
As we travelled along we first saw some snow and then it became obvious that it was no longer raining but actually snowing! Quite magical. We were picked up at Adelboden Oey by Tania the Our Chalet manager. Fortunately we were not expected to walk up the hill in the snow (we were only promised a luggage transfer).
We settled in and met a few people in the lounge, including Tee who Giselle met on the cruise last year. The girls involved in the program that Tee is doing then went orienteering and after a while we realised it had stopped snowing so we went out for a bit of a walk and snow play. The sun was trying to come out and the scenery was just spectacular, so pretty.
The special Christmas Eve dinner was at 6pm. There are about 10 guests at the moment plus perhaps 15 volunteers, interns and staff. They are expecting 70 people for a program next week so I think we are lucky to be here at a quiet time. There were introductions, a sung Grace - the Our Chalet grace in French! Dinner was three courses, bruschetta followed by full roast chicken dinner, potatoes, carrots, a really nice bean dish, cabbage, sprouts, stuffing, gravy etc. Then tiramisu, chocolate cake, cheesecake for dessert.
After dinner we joined in some activities in the lounge. We made up an Australian team with Tee and Nes, one of the volunteers. A series of puzzle/thinking challenges, none of which I was any help at, we only scored on one. Then a charades game where we did much better as in the end we won, despite me giving away answers to the opposition a couple of times!
The lounge is well-stocked with puzzles and games. I think this is going to be a very relaxing interlude in between the frenetic go go go pace of being a tourist.
This morning there was a special Christmas brunch and then no other planned activities until this evening's hike to the magical tree. Giselle and Tee are working their way through the activities to attain the "Our Chalet" badge, at the moment doing some community service which involves chipping ice off pathways. Soon I will join them for a walk into the township where they have other activities to complete.
A very different Christmas for me, but very pleasant none-the-less. I hope you have enjoyed yours, wherever you may be.
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I'm off on an adventure to Europe, on my own for 12 days and the remaining 3 weeks with my 17 year old daughter. This is where I'm going to share my adventures.
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