JT & DY in Europe : Brienz – Rothorn Cog Railway

We arrived in Brienz from Spiez at the early hour of 09h45 and trundled our bags up the hill to find our hotel where we were to stay for the next three nights.

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P1030494 DY of jtdytravels

Our very Swiss-looking Steinbock Hotel was built in 1787. It’s in a bautiful setting with mountains behind and Brienz Lake in front when looking in the opposite direction.

Our room was actually ready but we only took possession long enough to drop our bags before heading to the Brienz Rothorn Bahn for a very special ride on the Rothorn steam cog, or rack, railway.


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P1030496 DY of jtdytravels

Waiting for us in the station was this cute little loco coupled to two red carriages which it was going to push up the mountain to Rothorn.

This miraculous railway defies most scientific principles (well it seems like it anyway) to climb 1588m in just 7.5km of track.  The maximum gradient is 1 in 4 (25%) on a track gauge of 800mm or 2ft. 7½ inches.


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P1030507 DY of jtdytravels

The loco shed had some engines lurking in the shadows and the 800mm gauge track with rack is clearly visible.


JT of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

As we climbed the first of the gradients, the views back along the amazingly blue Brienzersee were a delight.


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P1030572 DY of jtdytravels

The loco may be small in size but it is a strong machine capable of taking the severe gradients in its stride.


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P1030594 DY of jtdytravels

Like me, these men were interested to see just is is how it works.


JT of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

There were detailed drawings explaining the workings.


JT of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

These were the two gentlemen responsible for building this extraordinary railway.

The route was first opened on 17th June 1892 but quickly fell into financial difficulties carrying only 5000 passengers instead of the predicted 25,000 per year.  Services were suspended on 1 August 1914 due to the First World War but did not reopen when the war ended.  However, maintenance was carried out on the line and some timber traffic was carried in 1918.  The line was finally reopened in June 1931 but was not electrified as have other Swiss mountain railways.  It remains the only line to be fully operated by steam except during light periods of traffic or if steam engines are not available. Then diesel locomotives are substituted.

The locos use 350kg of coal per trip and about 2000 litres of water.


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P1030525 DY of jtdytravels

Top-up water is taken on at one of the passing loops.

The trip takes just on an hour to reach the summit station but cost us a staggering CHF84.00 (AUD99.22) each.  But at least we felt we were helping to keep this unique piece of railway history going. And the day was brilliant, hot and clear, so the mountains were at their very best and it was a joy to be able to experience this special journey.


JT of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

Looking back at the train line that cuts a swathe across the back of the first mountain ridge.


JT of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

The train line winds its way ever upward.  Walking trails also criss cross the landscape. This is a great hiking area and some people who went up on the train walked back down.


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P1030557 DY of jtdytravels

This panorama shot does not do justice to the actual view!


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P1030548 DY of jtdytravels

A truly breath-taking view back down to Lake Brienz, some 1588m below. As has been the case over the last few days, threatening clouds started to build up.


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P1030553 DY of jtdytravels

These clouds heralded some rain in the not too distant future, so we did not do the steep final walk to the very top but had a light lunch at the summit restaurant.


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P1030570 DY of jtdytravels

Two lovely birds with the one shot!


After enjoying that wonderful view from our table, we caught the train back down. It left at precisely 13h28.  Times are very precise as trains have to pass at passing loops on the journey. Trains in Switzerland run to precise times anyway… Almost always on time.


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P1030539 DY of jtdytravels

A couple of trains passing each other.

There are three passing loops that are used during normal service on the line.  Very little waiting time, if any, is wasted on the journey.


JT of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

As the train slowly made its way back down the mountain, we enjoyed seeing the many wildflowers beside the track…. but of course we couldn’t get out to photograph them. The flowers at this spot were mostly primulas.  The variety of flowers changed with the change in altitude … For example, Aquilegia near the bottom to primulas in the middle section to Gentians near the top.


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P1030615 DY of jtdytravels

This is the Panalp Loop stop where we got off to walk for awhile.  When Jennie was here last in 1999, she walked back down to the village from here… But not this time!


JT of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

Brienz is renowned as a wood carving area and this sculpture of one of the railway engineers had just been completed. It’s carved out of what remained of a fallen tree… The roots are still underneath. It’ s a great addition to this train stop.  After admiring this, we set off for our walk in the meadows first crossing a small mountain stream.


JT of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

The little stream looked invitingly cool on such a hot, humid day but we walked on up the hill in search of wildflowers to photograph.


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P1030583 DY of jtdytravels

These ‘Globe’ ranunculus created a stunning contrast against the sky.


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P1030566 DY of jtdytravels

White ranunculus


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P1030582 DY of jtdytravels

Yellow buttercups were everywhere, their bright faces always pointing to the sun.


JT of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

A froth of pink!  This Thalictrum sp. was very common in the meadows.


JT of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

Delightful little yellow vetch.


Jar of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

This one looked like a ballet tutu swaying in the breeze.


JT of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

These tiny blue flowers hid amongst the taller plants.


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P1030608 DY of jtdytravels

An old barn, covered with shingles, had seen better days but was still serving a useful purpose providing shelter during the long hard winters.

Just a little before the train was due to arrive, it started to rain but, as most of the trip was over for us, it didn’t really bother us.  And there was a clean toilet at the loop stop. Only in Switzerland could you be sure of finding a clean, well provisioned, flush toilet at a hiking stop in the mountains.


JT of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

The rain eased as we made our way back down through the forests to Brienz village. Thunderstorms seem to come and go with a lot of flourish and noise but don’t seem to last very long in these mountains.


JT of jtdytravels

JT of jtdytravels

Back in our hotel, we were able to sit out on the balcony and enjoy the lake view as the clouds began to move away. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable day on the little train that took us to the summit of Rothorn and back down again.

More of our journey anon

David and Jennie

JT & DY in Europe : to Disentis, Switzerland

After the rain cleared, the sun shone as if we had ordered it, just in time for our very memorable and scenic train journey into the mountains to Disensis.

A final look at the view in Brunnen.

A final look at the view in Brunnen.

We travelled south from Brunnen to Disensis by the express train that goes up into those very mountains and on over the Gothard Pass south towards Italy.  At almost the top of the pass, at Goschenen, the express goes on through one of the long tunnels that the Swiss are famous for engineering. But we took a different route… By cog rail up to the top of the pass at Andermatt. This is where the Swiss train lines that run north south and east west cross. Some passengers headed west to Brig and Zermatt but we joined a very small regional train for the scenic journey east across the Oberalp Pass to Disentis.


Mountain scenery on Oberalp Pass.

Mountain scenery on Oberalp Pass.

This train too used the cog system for several of the very steep parts of the journey up and over the Oberalp pass.


A mountain lake in thaw.

A mountain lake in thaw.

The route went by mountain lakes that were in the throws of thawing after the long alpine winter.  Along the right hand side of this lake is a snow tunnel  that just looks like a row of posts in this photo. It’s really a roof built to allow the train to pass this way long before the thaw. It’s almost invisible in the vastness of this scene but it’s there and our train was about to go through that “tunnel” giving some idea of the vastness of this landscape.  It is so hard to show the vastness of the landscape.


Train tracks cut across the mountains.

Train tracks cut across the mountains.

The train route and the road look like cuts across the landscape.


Looking back up at the pass.

Looking back up at the pass.

As we began to descend, it was hard to decide where to look…. Back up the pass we had just come across, or down into the valleys ahead. I managed to catch David,s fingers in the bottom corner of this photo. He was looking down the valley from his window, I was looking back. We virtually had the carriage to ourselves and were free to move around from window to window as the scenery changed. And the windows opened letting us see more clearly… And breathe in that wonderfully fresh mountain air.

This train line is part of the route taken by the very expensive ” Glacier Express” where passengers sit in designated seats. Ours was the much cheaper option of the small local train and it was a lot of fun. It cost us just $15 each on top of our normal train pass. Way to go!


A narrow valley with golf course!

A narrow valley with golf course!

At one point, the train line ran along a ridge high above a narrow valley. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Down there beside that cluster of houses, was a golf course. It appeared to be be one fairway wide, the whole course running the length of the valley. I believe the area is used for cross country skiing in the winter.


A mountain village

A mountain village

The further we went down the valley, more farms and small villages added to the beauty of this journey.  Always a church spire adding that point of interest to a photo.


Our destination, Disensis.

Our destination, Disensis.

Finally, Disensis came into view, dominated by its huge monastery. We had reached our destination after a truly memorable and most enjoyable train journey.


Disentis abbey or monastery

Disentis abbey or monastery

Disentis Monastery sits high on a hill above our hotel which was close to the station. We spent the afternoon climbing up there, finding a wide variety of wild flowers in the meadows that surround the abbey and enjoying exploring the interior of this amazingly large building for such a small village. It is in fact a very important monastery, the centre of life here for many in this isolated valley where the Rhine River begins its journey. Because of its isolation, it is one of the few places left where the Swiss Romanch language is spoken by most of the population and taught at the monastery high school. I have tried to make some understanding of the written language but am defeated most of the time.


The interior of the abbey church

The interior of the abbey church

The interior of the church is sumptuous in gold and bright colours with very ornate  white plaster work. This is man’s creation and beautiful in its own way.


Flower and Beatle in the Abbey meadow.

Flower and Beatle in the Abbey meadow.

Outside in the meadows beside the abbey, we spent a very happy time finding a wide variety of nature’s creations. And that’s an activity that brings great joy to both of us.


Tiny but perfect

Tiny but perfect

And sometimes you have to look very carefully to find the tiny flowers amongst the taller, bolder ones.  Soon all of this meadow will be mown for hay but for now, the wildflowers have their moment in the sun.


The view from our room.

The view from our room.

Back at our small hotel beside the train station, this was the view from our room up on the top floor…. Worth the climb up all those stairs.  And we could watch all the activity down at this small village train station. We would catch one of those trains next day but for now the sound of the cow bells across the valley, a tractor taking a farmer home after a day of mowing hay, the occasional bells on church and abbey and the hourly train arrival were all the sounds we heard as we enjoyed this delightful little village.

more of our journey anon

Jennie and David


JT & DY in Europe – to Brunnen, Switzerland

Leaving Bangkok airport is never really a trial as we can book in for a Thai Airways massage. I chose to have my legs massaged in preparation for the long night flight and David had his shoulders and neck done. We had an eleven hour flight ahead of us to Brussels en route to Zurich. David takes up the story:

“What a nice surprise there was in store for us when we boarded our plane which was to take us from Bangkok to Brussels.  It was a B777, listed as just the same as the one that took us from Melbourne to Bangkok.  The big difference between the two was their age; the first plane being 7.6 years old and the second one only 8 months old.  No real difference except the seats. We each had our own cubicle on the newer plane and the seat could be converted into a fully 180 degree flat bed.  Bliss for a better night’s sleep compared to flat beds at a sloping angle.  There’s no difference in price paid, so I’ll take the 180 degree flat bed every time.  And, sleep I did as it was an all-night flight which left Bangkok at half past midnight.  It had been a long day already!

The other obvious difference was the use of lap and sash seat belts.  These were to be used during taxiing, take-off’s and landings.  The sash part of the belt could be detached for the rest of the journey.  What a good idea and as this type of belt has been compulsory in motor vehicles for decades, why has it taken so long for them to be used in aircraft where the forces in extreme situations are even greater?

On arrival in Brussels, Immigration and Customs formalities were necessary as we were entering the EC for the first time on this journey.  We had a 2+ hour transit time between arrival and the change to a Swiss Air flight to Zurich. This time was spent in a lounge which was all but empty when we arrived at around 07h30.  Eventually, we boarded the last of our flights, but the ground crew, whose responsibility it was to load the belly of the aircraft with our bags etc., were late to arrive. We missed our take-off slot and sat around for an extra 30 minutes waiting for a new slot to be found by the guys sitting in the control tower.  It was good to finally get underway.

The most important thing to do on our arrival in Zurich was to get some Swiss francs and to activate our two month Eurail Pass.  This was all achieved with little fuss and with lots of help from a very friendly Swiss Rail adviser.  SBB really does provide an excellent service in every way.

We found the right train and headed for Zug which is where Jennie lived for a couple of years arriving in 1969.  We had to change trains there for our overnight destination of Brunnen, a half hour further south on the Vierwaldstattersee,  the ‘lake of the four states’.  Each area calls the lake their own and gives it a colloquial name!”

I’ll interrupt David’s story here for  a few photos taken with my new TZ 60 camera.

One of the lovely hotels in Brunnen.

One of the lovely hotels in Brunnen.

The 800m walk down to the lake from the train station, the Bahnhof, gave some insight into this small Swiss village.  It is not large or touristy and we were greeted warmly by locals as we wearily walked, pulling our bags and toting our back packs.


Hotel Schmidt and Alpha in Brunnen

Hotel Schmidt and Alpha in Brunnen

And we were warmly welcomed at the hotel and shown to our room which has a small balcony ….The one straight above the main balcony. The cream hotel and the grey one are run as a joint family concern, with three generations of the family all doing their part to make the business flow smoothly including both B&Bs and a small restaurant.


Our view!

Our view!

What a view from our room! It could be no where else but Switzerland… a restored paddle wheel steamer just leaving Brunnen pier and the first row of the Swiss Alps as the background. We just sat on the balcony and drank in the clean Swiss air and that view. It was well worth the long journey to get to this well remembered part of the world.  This area of Swiss lakes had been my home away from home in the late 1960s and I had returned many, many times over the years.  But I had never actually stayed in Brunnen before. I have not been disappointed with the choice this time!

Every time I return to the lakes area of Switzerland, one thing I really look forward to is a feed of lake fish. David continues:

“In an attempt to keep things simple, and after a long day, we decided to eat in the restaurant attached to the hotel.  Although we were confronted by a fairly comprehensive menu, we both chose a fish dish.  The young waiter, Patrik,  was able to tell us that our fish was local to the very lake our hotel is situated beside.  He told us we would be getting fillets of fish and that they would be served with boiled potatoes and that a mixed salad would precede the main dish.  The salad arrived dressed with a light creamy dressing – and was fresh and delicious.

Next, of course, came the main offering which consisted of five fillets of fish and three elongated yellow potatoes which had been tossed in finely chopped parsley.  On plunging a fork into the first fillet of fish it was obvious that the Swiss chef had found a way to bloat the fillets of fish to make them look very much bigger than they actually were.  I reckon these fish must be on the endangered fish list, either that or they are very thin fingerlings.  The only discernible flavour, I think, came from the oil the fillets were fried in!  The meal was nonetheless quite enjoyable, but we did decline dessert when we saw  one delivered to a neighbouring table in a large open glass stemmed dish. It appeared to consist of very little, with who knows what in the bottom, topped with oodles of aerosol dispensed whipped cream.  We tried a coffee instead… Lots of froth not a lot of coffee. Then came the bill. The meal was truly expensive by our standards, but then everything is horrifically expensive in Switzerland. We knew that. When Jennie lived here in the 60’s, one AUD bought five Swiss franks. Now it will not buy one Swiss frank.

The day had been overcast and during the afternoon the sky became even more menacing.  During our dinner the skies opened and down tumbled a heavy deluge.  The only thing missing was thunder and lightning. It was time to go to bed and sleep to the sound of rain and hope that it would clear by morning.”

Early morning view.

Early morning view.

And clear it did. This was David’s first view of the world very early next morning. Beautiful. He enjoyed it while I slumbered on.

It was still a little misty when I joined him, camera in hand. I decided to give that 30x feature in the TZ 60 a bit of a trial.

Small village on a plateau on the hill.

Small village on a plateau on the hill.

I zoomed out about 10 x on the nearest hill across the other side of the lake. It became clearer that there are a few farm houses and what appeared to be a largish building on the left of the photo.

A hillside monastery.

A hillside monastery.

At 30x zoom, the building could be identified as a monastery .


The 'Weggis' at Brunnen Pier preparing for the day's first passengers.

The ‘Weggis’ at Brunnen Pier preparing for the day’s first passengers.

By the time I was showered and dressed, a few weak rays of sun were filtering through the mist.   The Weggis was already at the pier waiting for its first passengers of the day. We were ready to get out and explore but not by boat. The weather was forecast to turn wet again and these boats are expensive. We decided to leave venturing out on the lake for a sunny day and begin our day by exploring more of Brunnen on foot. Then we would use our train pass to take us first to Zug and then to Lucerne for David to experience two of my favourite places in this lakes area of Central Switzerland.

More of that anon.

Jennie and David

Switzerland, Lucerne

At the end of our cruise on the Vierwaldstattersee, we needed to cross the River Reuss to get from the schiff pier to the old section of the city of Lucerne, the ‘altstadt’.  We walked along the river side to the old wooden Chapel Bridge.

Originally built in 1333 as part of Lucerne’s fortifications, the bridge is dominated by the water tower, which is not a water tower at all. It’s just a tower standing in water and it was built there 30 years before the bridge. It’s been used as a prison,a torture chamber, a municipal archive and today it houses a souvenir shop – a different type of torture chamber!  It’s in a great position to capture the attention of just about every tourist who visits this city because this bridge is one of the top tourist attractions in the whole of Switzerland.

And in the waters below the bridge there are always plenty of swans.

They are an iconic part of an iconic scene.

As is usual in Switzerland, the bridge is decorated with flowers. It’s said that this is the oldest covered wooden bridge in Europe and the oldest ‘truss bridge’ in the world. Having stood as a symbol of Lucerne for so many centuries, it was a shock to everyone when it was almost burned down in August, 1993. I hadn’t been back since then and I was very keen to see what had been done to restore this architectural treasure.

 A variety of geraniums were used in the floral decoration, but in softer colours than the usual Swiss red. How do they keep them looking so fresh?

Up close you can see the engineering of the bridge – and the beauty of the floral decoration.

One of the very special features of this bridge is on the inside where a number of  paintings dating back to the 17th century decorate the triangular roof frames. This wasn’t done on any other European covered wooden bridges and I always delighted in ‘reading’ the stories told in the art. Many visitors, like me, took photos of the old paintings and they are now part of history since many of the paintings were destroyed in the 1993 fire. Out of 147 paintings only 47 ‘survived’ the fire and only 30 of those could be restored.  This painting depicts the three original wooden bridges. The middle wooden bridge no longer exists but the third bridge, the Spreuer Bridge, or Mill Bridge, with its own series of triangular paintings, is still in use today.

Many of the original paintings, like this one, depict scenes promoting the Catholic Church’s saints and teachings. They were painted during the counter- reformation, a time when few people were literate and pictures told the stories.

The personal coat-of-arms of council members who sponsored paintings was also recorded.

Each panel was numbered. This is an important one of the surviving paintings showing the old city joined to the new city by the bridges. It also shows the fortified walls that stretched out on the hill above the city. Much of the wall and some towers still stand sentinel as they have for centuries.It’s worth a climb to enjoy the views – but not on a hot day!

A modern pedestrian bridge has replaced the original middle wooden bridge.

It’s well used by those wishing just to cross the river as it’s not a ‘tourist’ attraction.

The river banks near the bridge are lined with well patronised cafes and restaurants.

 There’s a farmer’s market in this river side area on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

While the bridge has been well restored ‘in the old manner’, there are many empty painting spaces – those 400 year old paintings are impossible to replace.

Two attractive apartments buildings at the end of the bridge.

One of them now with a “Starbucks” cafe, attracting American tourists.

Many buildings in Lucerne have paintings on their facades.  
A good example is the the painting on the old “Hotel des Alpes” which shows the coats-of-arms of all four cantons of the “Vierwaldstattersee.”

The riverside cafe’s looked inviting – but we would have to earn our afternoon tea.

We still had the streets in the old town to explore.

Like most old Swiss cities, there are water fountains in the main squares – some decorated in very colourful ways!

This is a much newer art work that decorates a well known tourist ‘fondu house’.

One of my favourite side streets looks up to a tower on the old city walls which were built 1350 to 1408.

Shop signs like this are common sights hanging out over the narrow streets.

They add to the ambience of the old town.

This old building is covered in historical art works that depict life in the warrior times of Lucerne.

Located in on of the main squares, it’s one of Lucerne’s real treasures.

A close up of part of the art work showing a knight in shining armour and stylised coats of arms.

This building has original hand made glass in its windows.

After our wander in old town, we found a cool cafe for that well earned ‘cuppa’ and a quiet relax before we headed back to the rail station for our final train journey back to Zurich. On our way, we crossed the River Reuss again, this time on the newer iron bridge, looking back across Chapel Bridge to Mount Rigi.

That sight  was a fitting end to four great days in Switzerland.

Photography © JT for jtdytravels

( In my next series of journals, I’ll journey with David to Burma, or as its now called, Myanmar)

Switzerland, Vierwaldstattersee

For our last day in Switzerland we decided to enjoy a cruise on the lake called ‘Vierwaldstattersee’, the lake of the four forested cantons – Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden and Lucerne. But first we had to get to Fluelen, in Uri, at the very end of the lake.

The Sihlbrugg

Our ever dependable Swiss trains took us first to Zurich and then to Zug. On the way we crossed a favourite stream of mine, the Sihlbrugg, and I managed to get a small momento of this bubbly stream as the train wizzed by. The road to Zurich from Zug follows this stream – a road I drove many, many times. It’s at its prettiest in winter when each rock is topped by a dab of snow. In the spring thaw, the rocks are submerged and cause the little stream to bubble and boil.

The community ‘allotment’  gardens at Baar, near Zug.

Another quick photo captured some of the community ‘allotment’ gardens at Baar where people who live in apartments, as many Swiss do, can grow their veggies and flowers and have social contact with others ‘over the garden fence’. As one might expect in switzerland they are well maintained and their garden ‘sheds’ are more like cabins.

A traditional farm seen from the train.

We took a small commuter, ‘all stops’ train from Zug to Fluelen. That gave us plenty of time to enjoy the views over the Zugersee one more time and then on through the farms of the canton of Schwyz to Fluelen in the canton of Uri.

The Gross and Kleine Mythen Mountains

This area is dominated by the Gross and Klein Mythen Mountains. Our favourite ski field was just beyond this hill.  At that time, 1969/1970, a couple of farmers had made a private ski area on their farms and we loved it. There were no busy ski towns, no crowds and no waiting for the T-bar lift. It was a longish run and difficult enough without being hair-raising and it afforded magnificent views of these Mythen Mountains covered in snow. The sun glistened like diamonds off the soft Swiss snow. And at the bottom of the run there was a tiny ‘cafe’ in one of the farm houses where there was always a bowl of hot soup and a hot drink waiting for us.

The PS Schiller comes into Fluelen pier.

But today was about other memories – sailing on a paddle wheeler.  As we waited with a throng of other passengers  on the Fluelen pier, we realised from the number of people all ready on board the schiff heading our way, that our first class ticket would come in very handy – yet again!  The PS Schiller was built in 1906 and is still a popular way to experience the big lake. It might rattle – a lot, and be noisy – very, and have uncomfortable seats, but it’s a really special, historic, some may even say romantic, way to see the lake. It was a hot, sunny summer’s day and once on board, we were very thankful for our upstairs, covered from the sun, first class seats… and a table for lunch.

The steep hills of Canton Uri.

In Canton Uri, on the south side of this far end of the lake, small villages are tucked beneath very steep hillsides – and, once those cliffs hit the water line, they go straight on down into this very deep lake. Getting to such a village by boat is much the best way – but there are good hiking trails here for fit walkers. But it’s all UP and steep UP at that.

The house at Trieb village pier is painted in Uri Canton colours.

From this small village pier,  you can take the Treib-Seelisberg cable railway up to the panorama plateau in Seelisberg. The trip takes about eight minutes. The top station is on the “Swiss Way” hiking route which affords walkers with some wonderful mountain panorama views.  Oh to be young again!  But it’s good to have memories of such hiking.

The view back to the Mythens.

Crossing over to the north side again, to the canton of Schwyz, there’s a good view back to the majestic Mythens. As on all of the lakes, the schiffs criss-cross from one side of the lake to the other to provide transport between isolated villages for residents, hikers, day trippers and holiday makers alike.

After visiting a few villages, we came back to Vitznau. We had been there earlier in the week when we had taken our journey by cog rail up to Rigi Kulm.  This time we came in from a different angle.  You can join us by video!

PS Gallia

After calling into Vitznau, another paddle wheeler joined us. As we couldn’t see our own wheel churning up the water, it was good to see the PS Gallia up so close.  While we were having lunch on board, we sat with a couple who told us about an event that was about to happen involving our paddle wheeler, the PS Gallia and a Motor Schiff. Apparently its a bit of summer time fun between the lake schiffs.  While PS Gallia sailed beside us, the Motor Schiff was about to sail right through between the two paddle steamers. I was taken up the front to be ready with my camera.

It was fun – it was noisy (turn the sound up)  – and I hope I’ve captured it so that you can experience it, too.


The next village we called into was Weggis  a delightful place that is very popular for holidays and for eating out. There’s a cable car from here up the Rigi.  It’s an alternative way to travelling by the cog railway.

And just so that you can share in the experience of being on board the PS Schiller, here is one more piece of video!

Lucerne’s Lido and ‘beach’.

It was hot, it was the beginning of the Swiss summer holidays and the lido and ‘beach’ were very well patronised.

Mount Pilatus

You know the cruise is almost over when Mount Pilatus looms over the lake in all it’s majesty. I have been up to the top of that mountain once. We took Em’s Mum and Dad up there and it was an exciting experience for us all. We went up by very steep cog rail and came back down by a series of cable cars. I believe they are bigger these days to accommodate more tourists. But I well remember the first small four seater cable car we took from the very top. It only had a grill floor and so, as the car was literally pushed off the top, the view straight down that cliff face was quite daunting. Maybe that’s why I don’t have a dream to go paragliding!

PS Uri tied up at Lucerne Pier.

We disembarked in Lucerne right next to PS Uri with a view of Mount Rigi in the background… and of course, flowers in the foreground. Where were we?  With a few hours of daylight left, we decided to complete this delightful summer’s day, in true Swiss fashion… with a ‘cuppa’ in a river side cafe and just relax and watch the world go by. But before we did that, it was probably a good idea to go for a wander in the old city… and that’s for our next journal entry.

Photography © JT for jtdytravels

Switzerland, Brienz and the Brunig Pass

Unfortunately for us, this day was the one and only time that the Swiss precision transport connection schedules let us down. The schiff was late in docking and we missed our train to Brienz – the one that would have given us the chance to take the wonderful little Brienz to Rothurn mountain steam train. I’ve done that trip up the steep mountain once and it is spectacular. However, you do need plenty of time for that excursion. The ride up takes about an hour (as does the return journey) and you need time to walk and explore at the top. But I do recommend it to anyone visiting Switzerland.

But there’s always an alternative – Plan B!

Or make up a plan as you go along… and that’s what we did.

The icy blue waters of Brienzersee.

We took a small train to Brienz along the shores of Brienzersee, a deep icy cold lake, 14 km long and about 2.5 kms wide. The River Aar runs through this lake, then through the Thunersee and finally out through the town of Thun.

The village of Brienz.

Tucked at the end of the Brienzersee at the foot of the mountains, Brienz is a delightful, quiet place, renowned for its woodcarvers and wood carving school which has been in operation since 1862 . Potential students must pass an aptitude test before they begin their four year course. I have been for a tour of the school in the past and have several small pieces bought there over the years; pieces that I still enjoy. I found a blog about the school with good photos of the school and the village on:   http://blog.woodcraft.com/2010/06/brienz-carving-school-tour/

I have been told that authentic Swiss cuckoo clocks have their start in life in this village. The carved ‘boxes’ are made here and then the clock mechanisms are added in Zurich with Swiss time piece accuracy of course!

A section of the cemetery at Brienz (as seen from the train).

Another task for the woodcarvers is to make wooden ‘headstones’ for graves… often including carvings that depict something of the life of the person such as a shepherd or a farmer. The best example of this cemetery carving I think is at Lungern, a village on the other side of the Brunig Pass. It’s well worth a stop at Lungern Church – on the hill – to see these carvings. One thing I have to say about Swiss cemeteries is that I have never seen a unkempt one. In summer the graves are usually adorned, as here, with bedding begonias rather than a concrete tops. There is real respect shown.

Brienz rail station – one of the most picturesque sites for a station that I have seen.

After arriving at Brienz station, I was keen to visit the baker’s shop. Em and I had stayed with the local baker once – and not only did we wake up to that wonderful smell of fresh baked bread, but he also made the very best ‘creme caramel’ I have ever tasted. His secret – fresh unadulterated cow’s milk and fresh eggs. (And that same secret was told to me by the chef in a small country restaurant near Trabzon in eastern Turkey when I commented on his delicious rice custard!)

But my visit to the baker’s shop was not to be. When checking the train timetable before we set out to explore the village, I noticed that the next train due was the “Golden Pass” with its special glass topped panoroma carriage. I knew that this train required a first class ticket AND pre-paid reserved seats. We had the former but not the latter. I had tried to book on the internet the night before but couldn’t do it at such short notice. So we went to the ticket office to make inquiries. And there we met a lady with a whole lot of common sense!  As the train had already left Interlaken, she couldn’t reserve seats for us. BUT, she said, if we stood at a certain place on the platform, when the train came in we should just hop on board and sit down until someone said they had reserved that seat.  We could always move and/or pay the conductor the price of a reservation. And that’s just what we did! We were more than ready to move but no-one even looked like challenging us for the seats. In fact we noticed others doing the same thing. What luck.

The Meiringen Valley.

The first part of the journey took us along the fertile Meiringen valley. It’s at the foot of both the Susten Pass which winds its way east from here and the Brunig Pass which crosses northwards. Both are spectacular and worth the drive.

Our train was going to take us north across the Brunig Pass to Lucerne. I had done this many times by road but never by train. The train reverses out of Meiringen station and then, with one engine pulling and one pushing, it begins its long, winding, steep ascent through forests until it reaches the summit at 1,008 m.

Brunig-Hasliberg train station!

When the train finally pulled into the summit station, Brunig-Hasliberg, what a surprise we had. The station buildings serve as a second hand book and furniture shop. What an interesting concept. I know the road passes through here too,  so I guess they set out to get the passing trade in this very small place. But… we had no time to stop and browse.

The conductor came around to check tickets at about this point on the journey. He was a small, rotund  man with red cheeks and a cheerful laugh. I was expecting to have to pay extra for these ‘panorama seats’ – but no! He just passed the ticket back to me and said, ‘Have a very pleasant day ladies.” And that was that!  We settled in for the rest of the ride.

Farm meadows high up on the Brunig pass.

After leaving the top of the pass, the train began to wend its way through the high summer pastures with small summer farm houses dotted across the fields. It was somewhat reminiscent of scenes from the famous Heidi and Peter story.

Lungern Church and village.

The train wound its way very slowly down the steep mountain-side track, somewhat like a sinuous snake, until finally we could see below us the  lovely Lungern valley.  We had a fine view of the church with its terraced church yard full of carved wooden ‘headstones’- the ones that I mentioned earlier. I’d never looked down onto the church and village before.  I’d often driven through the village and walked up to the church to see the carvings. It’s worth the climb.

The Lungernersee from the train.

After leaving Lungern station the train wandered along above the Lungernersee. It really is a delightful valley but so hard to capture in photos from the train. The windows are never spotless and the sun never at the right angle and reflections from inside the carriage get in the way! And then there’s usually a tree or a post that just happens to pop into the photo the minute you press the shutter. But we did manage a few photos to give some idea of the scenery we were enjoying.

Small farming communities beside the lake.

The road winds around the lake below the train line, passing through small farming communities that have not changed over the years. I noticed only one or two new houses – built in the old style that has stood the test of time.

An abandoned farm house!

I guess this old, now abandoned building has seen better days – before the tree began to push its way through the wall.

The fertile Giswil Valley.

Down, down – ever downward – very slowly, through spectacular scenery, until we could see the Giswil Valley below.

The Sarnersee.

This was indeed a journey through some beautiful lake country. This one, the Sarnersee was almost at the bottom of the Golden Pass train’s descent on its way to Lucerne and its lake the Vierwaldstattersee – but more of that lake next time.

What a wonderful journey it had been. AND we had both had excellent seats all the way. But there was one thing left to do before we reached Lucerne to change trains for the final hour ride to Zurich. We should pay a visit to ‘the loo’.

Now remember this was a first class carriage on one of the special panorama trains in the country of Switzerland… the most expensive country to visit in the world, I think.   I was first to make my way through the carriage to the WC. Just as I settled myself down to mind my own business, I was stunned by a cold blast of air making its presence felt on my nether regions! Wow! Where did that come from? When I arose, rather quickly from that ‘throne’, I was amazed to see that the loo went straight through to the track beneath. Now I haven’t experienced that sort of train loo since – well, I guess, since I was a teenager travelling the North Coast line between Sydney and Lismore.. and that was a while ago!

But we were very glad of our first class tickets on the final leg of our journey that day – from Lucerne back to the airport at Zurich. At Lucerne station, we only just made the train before it pulled out of the station so we had to get on board the very last carriage – a second class one. It was packed! People were sitting on the stairs and on the floor… it was after all the summer holidays and also knock off time for workers.  We made our way carefully through the throng, passing through several carriages until we found ourselves at last in a first class carriage. There, we sank thankfully into a comfortable seat for the journey ‘home’.  Yes, our first class ticket had been worth every Swiss frank we had paid.

We had one more day to go in Switzerland and that will be the subject of our final Swiss journal entry.  J and A

Switzerland, Thunersee

Our cruise along the length of the Thunersee proved again the usefulness of our First Class Swiss Travel Pass. It allowed us to go upstairs on the schiff and so to have a better view of the scenery passing us by. Also, the boat was very crowded on a busy summer’s day and those of us upstairs didn’t have the crush of people getting on and off the boat at each village dock. The Swiss annual holidays had begun, the sun was shining as it hadn’t done for a month and the Swiss were out in force to enjoy it while it lasted. We had our own table upstairs and were able to wander out onto the deck or back inside at will instead of trying to find a good viewing space on the crowded lower deck.

We had a table on this schiff because this was a luncheon cruise… and we learned a valuable lesson about ordering food in Switzerland… one that I had forgotten. What we ordered was a fresh garden salad to come at the same time as our cooked fish meal of fresh local perch, ‘eglifilet’.  We got the salad OK but the fish did not come and we gradually realised from watching others that the fish would not arrive UNTIL we had eaten our salad. Just like in the US, salad comes first.  So – not until our empty salad plate had been returned to the kitchen was our fish cooked!

I noted that many passengers had the same idea of ordering ‘egli’  for lunch. This delicious white fish dish is served simply with boiled, herbed potatoes and is a well known Swiss specialty.  It’s always been a favourite of mine. But I did wonder just how many fish were needed to supply so many well filled dishes of fish fillets.  I was assured that the fillets come from a fairly large fish that flourishes in the calm and vegetation rich waters in Switzerland’s clean lakes, brooks, rivers, and mountain streams. It  begins life as a ‘vegetarian’ but as an adult, it’s a ferocious carnivore.

“Schloss Schadau” on the banks of the lake at Thun.

While waiting for our meal, we watched the scenery slip by – and saw others enjoying meals in restaurants along the foreshore. One such place was “Schloss Schadau”. This castle, built between 1847 and 1854, now belongs to the city of Thun. It has a fine restaurant where people can enjoy wonderful scenery as well as fine food. It also houses the Swiss Gastronomy Museum said, in the brochure, to contain a ‘trove’ of cultural relics, interesting cooking devices (some now used again in modern cooking) and unusual recipes. Could be interesting!

One of those moments you just have to photograph!

Cruising further down the lake across this stunning blue water, we noticed these young sailors under tow. They not only made a great photo but they also reminded me of  many years of small boat sailing in Australia with Em when we enjoyed teaching young people the art and joy of ‘messing about in boats.”  On this day the lake was very calm – not enough breeze to fill these small sails. But it’s not always so. When the wind funnels through between these hills, small boat sailing can be quite exciting to say the least. And that water is cold, very cold; so it’s best not to capsize!

This is a very deep lake with steep slopes down to the water.I can only imagine how difficult it is to manage vineyards here.


Getting home up steep slopes like these keeps one very fit! I know. To get home to our house in the village of Walchwil required just such a steep uphill walk especially as our car was garaged down by the lake. Unlike Walchwil, this village has not been spoiled by modern architecture – there’s not a flat roof in sight. And that’s probably because this is an area where snow lies thick in winter. It’s a dormitory area for the many ski slopes around here.

The mountains of the Bernese Oberland loom over the hills beside the lake.

The area between Thunersee and the mighty mountains of the Monch, the Eiger and the Jungfrau was a favourite ski area of ours; Lauterbrunnen, Murren, Wengen, Grindlewald… all of them just over that hill. And it’s a fantastic place to hike in the spring and summer when the wild flowers are out. And in the autumn, this area is sublime in its beauty. Wonderful memories.

Another example of Swiss engineering.

Em and I often travelled these roads, carved through rock faces which drop straight down into the lake. Cruising on the lake is so much more relaxing!

The schiff calls in at the tiniest of villages like this one. They are often the starting points for walking tracks in the hills.  Hikers get off the schiff to walk to the next village – village people get on to cross the lake – it’s all part of the great Swiss transport service.

A tiny ‘beach’ and well patronised restaurant at the end of the lake.


Paragliders take to the air from the hills behind the lake.

Watching these paragliders float through the air while we waited for our next train at Interlaken station made me think that perhaps we all need to dare to dream,  dare to do, dare to take opportunities that come our way, in order to help make our lives rich and rewarding. These are  tandem flights – a professional taking a ‘dreamer’  with them, someone who has dared to dream of floating way, way above the stunning scenery below.

While a desire to paraglide has never been a dream of mine, this trip back to Switzerland reminded me of two young people who dared to dream and have goals for their careers – and we went about achieving those goals, worked hard, had fulfilling lives and were not left wondering ‘what if!’ I guess it’s one reason why, now that I’m retired, I’m still so passionate about encouraging young people to dare to dream, to take opportunities and work to achieve their goals.

The next train cut short my thoughts. We climbed on board and proceeded onwards with our day, visiting yet more places that brought back a flood of memories of so many days spent in this wonderful Swiss countryside… for Switzerland became like a second home to Em and to me… a place we returned year after year for both work and for holidays… and it was so good to come back yet again.

Photography © JT of jtdytravels

Switzerland, Thun

Mediaeval Thun and its beautiful lake in the Interlaken region of Switzerland was the first goal of our third day in Switzerland and this day proved just why a First Class Swiss Transport Pass is the way to go.  To begin the day we took an intercity express train from Zurich via Berne to Thun.  It’s a longish journey made more comfortable by first class seats upstairs with plenty of leg room and great views of the countryside.  First class on trains is good!

Added to that we had the company of a delightful Swiss lady fellow traveller, Monica, and her 88 year old Mother.  They were on a trip down memory lane, too. Monica was able to fill us in on a lot of what is going on in Switzerland today – especially on the numbers of wealthy German and Austrian people moving to Switzerland because of the world economic downturn and the EU crisis.  This is forcing up housing and land prices in Switzerland and is beginning to have a real impact on ordinary Swiss folks, especially the young people.

We arrived in Thun with an hour to spare before our schiff departed to cruise down the lake. We had to choose – a walk in the old town – turn left; or a walk beside the river -turn right. We chose the quiet walk by the river. Water from the Lake of Thun – the Thunersee – rushes through a weir into the Aar River at Thun.

There are many photos of Thun on the Images section of Google, so I have just added photos of our experience.

I was particularly intrigued by the life saving belt attached to the fourth floor balcony of one of the houses on the banks of the fast flowing river below the weir. Any one falling into the river at this point would be swept away long before that belt hit the water! As usual in Switzerland, balconies are festooned with flowers.

The sluice gates of the old wooden weir were open allowing a great rush of water through. The weir also acts as a covered bridge across the river. In summer it’s festooned in red geraniums – always a favourite of the Swiss.

Cog wheels and machinery for the sluice gates on the bridge are just another example of engineering in Switzerland that has stood the test of time.

The river above the weir looked peaceful enough but was it? These old wooden piles on the weir/bridge have stood for many years against the forces of water.

These Moorhens had to dive constantly to find food for their chicks.

The river here looked placid enough but it was far from placid for these little chicks. It was hard work.

Residential area along the banks of the river. Unlike other places we had seen, here the old and the new architecture seem to work well together.

There are several large villas along the river, some with their own ‘summer houses’ and jetties.This one looked inviting.

For those without their own boats, there are flat bottomed boats for hire to explore the lake.

A walk along this side canal shows off the delightful setting that Thun enjoys at the foot of the great mountains.

An old paddlewheel steamer “PS Blumlisalp”, built in 1906, waits for passengers in the side canal which acts as the ‘port’ for the start of lake cruises on the Thunersee.

The information below is from the web site http://www.paddlesteamers.info   which claims to be ‘the Internet’s leading database of Paddle Steamers past and present’.

Lake Thun’s Paddle Steamer, PS Blumlisalp dates from 1906 but,after withdrawal in 1971, it seemed that the era of the paddler had come to an end on Lake Thun. An unprecedented preservation and, ultimately, restoration project by enthusiasts with significant public support, saw Blumlisalp reenter service in 1992. She is owned by preservationists but operated by her original owners the BSL who maintain ownership of the motor vessel fleet. (The BLS is the Bern-Lotschberg-Simplon Railway, which also operates the local railway services). The recent major renovation was paid for by the preservationist group with financial support from the BSL.  (Long may she sail! JT)

Having always been interested in water birds, I was delighted to see some tufted ducks enjoying this peaceful canal.

Our Motor Schiff, the Berner Oberlander, also moored in the canal, was almost ready to sail, so we joined the queue to embark for our cruise down the length of the lovely lake, the Thunersee.

More of that cruise anon.   J and A

Photography © JT of jtdytravels

Switzerland – to Rigi Kulm

Monday afternoon – 23rd July 2012

After our memorable morning visit and lunch in the old town of Zug, we made our way back to the new town to find the rail station once again.  There was a definite change from old to new as we walked through the lake gardens.

The last of the old town buildings of Zug at the back of the lake gardens.

As the road swings away from the lake to go up to the rail station, the new town begins – complete with some abstract art and a little graffiti!

The old rail station has completely disappeared. In its place this glass edifice.

And it was there that we waited for our next train connection – to Lucerne – right on time!

From Lucerne station we just walked across the road and caught a boat to take us to Vitznau. We could have taken a bus, but the scenery is great from the boat.

You get a nice view of the old Meggen Schloss from the boat.

The Neuhapsburg Castle is a little crowded by new modern style buildings – but it’s still a beautiful sight.

Some views on the lake seem to be timeless.

This is the way I remember the lakeside. I’ve always loved the cute boat houses.

But some of the waterfront is now a hotchpotch of the old and the new!  Town planning seems to be a little lacking but I guess land is expensive (very) as are building costs (very,very) and everyone would like to live by such a beautiful lake if they can. I know I loved my life by the water at Lake Macquarie, near Newcastle! But the view from the water is not so good any more.

This section of waterfront clearly shows the two styles of architecture – traditional Swiss and modern Swiss! I wonder how long the new buildings will last – hundreds of years? I think not. And just what happens to snow on flat roofs?

At Vitznau, houses have to find a niche on the rocky slope. Our next train, the cog rail, would take us up that steep slope on its way to Rigi Kulm (to the top).

My favourite Palace, “The Park Hotel” at Vitznau, where I once stayed with Em for a conference, was covered in scaffolding. An Austrian interest has bought it and is now renovating the place. When I stayed here ( in 1980 I think) this was a mostly farming area and, while Em conducted the international conference, I walked the hills and meadows across farms and through forests. It’s all very different here now.

The tiny port of Vitznau has little room for modern development. The cog rail leaves from here and it was there waiting for the boat to dock – a seamless transfer. In no time at all we were going straight up the rocky incline with the engine pushing from behind giving us a grand view from the carriages in front.

The track system for the rack and pinion railway.

For those of you technically minded, this was the first mountain railway using rack and pinion technology in the world and was opened to public passengers on the engineer Nickolas Riggenbach’s birthday, 21st May 1871. The full track is 5 km (3.1 mi) long and climbs a total of 1,115 m (3,658 ft) to reach a height of 1,550 m (5,085 ft) at its summit, the maximum gradient being 1 in 4 (25%). It uses a system of toothed racks set between the railway tracks interlocking with cogwheels fitted under the locomotives. The track width is 1,435 mm (4ft81/2in) and the electrification is by 1,500v DC overhead wire. (D has trained me well when it comes to finding out specifications!)

It was not long before we were a long way up above the lake on our way to the Kulm.

Boats on the lake began to look like dots, only their wake giving there position.

The wow factor increased as we went ever higher and began to see the Alps beyond the local hills.

And then we turned a corner to climb up the other side of the Rigi. And far below us was the Zugersee and the town of Zug (top right) under a layer of smog that was never there when we lived in this area. Then the air was always crystal clear.

At last we reached the station. We had come up on the red train from Vitznau but would return on the blue train down the other side to Arth Goldau on the Zugersee..

Before we did that we still had to walk to the top. I loved this sign. No prizes for guessing my choice. I may no longer need a walking stick but I took the gentle grade… and enjoyed the view along the way. That’s why we had come.

And what views they were! The cows know the right place to rest and chew their cud. They were looking down to where the blue train would take us on the way back down.

And a little further around we were looking down onto my old village of Walchwil.  Then a tiny farming community – now the modern Riviera of the Zugersee! The old house we shared with a local family can be seen at the base of the very right hand ribbon of trees. A tiny brook runs through those trees and our house was called Unterbach – under the brook. The whole area was farms where I loved to walk.

And right at the top of Rigi is a new tower for modern technology. But there has always been a tower here, it’s blinking red light kept me company on many a night when Em was away for days at a time travelling to other countries.

On some of these high meadows, I first learned to ski. Rigi is wonderland in winter – but it is beautiful at any time of the year.

And while there is so much to see looking out at the expansive views, there is also beauty to found right at your feet beside the path… this harebell for instance.

And I always delight in the tiny yellow vetch.

And for the cows to enjoy, there is plenty of sweet clover.

Tiny forget-me-nots. No, I will not forget and I am very grateful that I was able to make this special visit on a brilliant, sunny day.

All too soon, it was time to return, by the blue cog train… down, down for 6.8kms at a maximum incline of 20%, through forests and farmlands to Arth Goldau on the Zugersee side of the Rigi.

After a truly memorable day, it was time to make the most of the Swiss transport system again; from the station at Arth Goldau at the bottom end of the Zugersee, we took a train through the village of Walchwil to Zug, another train to Zurich and finally another to the airport – all well co-ordinated!  We had a a quick cafe meal before making our way through the ‘airport city’ to our hotel – and bed.  And there we crashed.  It had been a long, busy but fulfilling, ‘WOW’ sort of day!

More anon    J and A

Photography © JT of jydytravels

Switzerland, Zug

Our trip to Switzerland has been a walk down memory lane for me. I lived here in 1969/1970. Yes, a long time ago but my experiences here were to change the direction of my career and establish Em in his career. They were good times and for four days A and I have visited some of the places I loved back then. These few photos are of Zug, the town where Em set up his office in a small apartment. It was a small medieval town then but it has grown into a thriving modern city that at first I did not recognise – until I found the old town – still as it used to be. I was ‘home’.

The restored castle of Zug – an important symbol of this medieval town in central Switzerland. Much of the town is very new, but they have kept the old town in tact.


In the centre of the old town is this clock tiled in Zug Canton’s colours of blue and white. Just seeing it made me feel ‘at home’.


We had lunch in the old square where we had eaten so often when we lived here – the tables and chairs are new but the garden salad was just as good as I remembered.

A coincidence! The man in the check shirt was our wonderful waiter on the schiff on Zurich Lake the day before. We had enjoyed his company and it was great to be recognised by someone here in the old town.

One of the two narrow streets that run off the square – some buildings more than 500 years old and still being used as houses or shops. I just love all those flags.


Just below the square is the lake of Zug – my lake. Blue sky, blue water, lazy days – summer had finally come to Switzerland.


The promenade along the lake shore that joins old town to the new. Em and I often had our lunch sitting right here under those trees. I would come into town from our village, Walchwil, and he would walk down from the office nearby. Good memories. These paddle boats are new but there were always paddle boats here for hire.


Seagulls, swans and ducks on the lake are all part of my memories. They provided company in the early days in Zug when I didn’t know anyone – nor did I speak the language. And it was that experience that was the impetus for a change in my career when I finally went home to Australia – from classroom teacher to developing Child Migrant Education and teaching English as a Second language – something Australia did not do at that time.


From the seats under the trees this is the view down the lake to the Rigi Mountain (Queen of the Mountains) – where our next visit down memory lane would take us.

More photos of this few days in beautiful Switzerland when I get home.  Jennie