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Switzerland - [Lucerne: Mt Rigi and Mt Stanserhorn - Part 1] of Parts 7 -[so far]

After flight delays and spending an unexpected night in Chicago, we finally made it to Switzerland. As a previous OP said, after all the travel stressors, pressures seemed to melt away once we arrived . We have " unplugged" a bit, no internet away from the hotel, mostly checking the RS Forum when sleep schedules leave me awake at odd hours.

Getting thru Passport Control in Zurich took 11 minutes , even tho the whole plane descended at once. The officers briefly looked at the Swiss tracker form; never asked for cdc card or Covid- testing, which aren't required .

The adjacent Zurich rail station is easy to navigate, and we were in Lucerne by 1:00pm. Hotel des Alpes , centrally located with a Chapel Bridge View, was very kind, and did not charge us for the unplanned night in Chicago. They have a generous 48 hr cancelation policy, but could have charged us. We booked directly, which helped that issue, and also got us a discount.

There is no buffet breakfast currently. The coffee was much cheaper than Starbucks, and the breakfast good, but portions were not large.
We did have a lunch at the Menora department store, Eating outside on the rooftop deck, which was very pleasant . The food court closes about 4:00pm, so it's not a (moderately) priced dinner option.
The nearby Coop-store had a cafeteria, and they close at 6:00pm, with moderate prices.

Outdoor Tables along the water got busy around 6:00pm, many folks having drinks, and started to clear out by 8:00pm.

Lucerne has a pleasant buzz, people are here, mostly Europeans, but there are no crowds or large tour groups blocking thoroughfares.

We took the hour boat to Vitznau, to meet the 30 minute train to Mt Rigi. The efficient Swiss have timed to boat and train to coordinate. Rigi was beautiful, a bit hazy, and weather quite pleasant. We were so happy the clouds cleared by the time we arrived at the summit. We took the 9:12 boat out and we're back in Lucerne by 1:40pm, for a jet- lag nap. Boat and cogwheel about 75% full. In the past I found food at the summit to be expensive and not great, so we bought sandwiches and pretzels at the coop store. The boat ride was tranquil and relaxing, and all completely covered by the Swiss Travel Pass.

Lucerne is mid- 70's, but feels warmer, probably because we brought long pants and long sleeves. Folks are out in shorts and summer clothes. No rain thus far.

No one has asked for our cdc cards. Mask-wearing is pretty good, noticed the 20-ish not wearing masks in the train station, but they do on the trains.
Moving onto Pontresina- to be continued.

Friday night there were fireworks over the lake, coming from the area around the Transportation Museum. I have no idea why.

Today, Saturday, there is a Farmers Market along the water, in front of the hotel- maybe we'll get cheese and bread here for breakfast .

It's very difficult typing everything on my phone- so pls excuse errors

Posted by
1175 posts

Hi Pat,

I’m so glad you made it there. It sounds like it’s a great time to be there weather wise. Thanks for the report and enjoy the rest of your trip!

Posted by
109 posts

Traveling vicariously....love our trip, so far!!! Can't wait for the next destination.
Vielen dank!!!
Patsy & Larry (from smoky Tahoe)

Posted by
596 posts

Thanks so much Pat for your report! We leave for Zurich in 12 days……so I am getting all forms, etc together. I am thinking that our passports and CDC vac cards and our Swiss Health form are all we need to enter…….hope that is right! We have plenty of masks to bring as well. Cannot wait to see those beautiful mountains! Have fun and keep reporting!

Posted by
2597 posts

Nice report. I was in Lucerne a few years ago and liked it quite a bit. Thanks for bringing back some pleasant memories (including Hotel des Alpes).

Posted by
251 posts

Hi Pat glad you made it, I am about to start a short trip report myself, we are ahead of you by awhile. Ironically we did NOT like Lucerne! Lol. In fact we bailed early. We also stayed at Hotel des Alpes, so so. We have fallen in love with—of all cities in CH—Zurich! We have had a great time there and will return once more before we head to Paris when we end our trip in a couple of weeks. Like you, hanging on by our fingernails our BA flight back to LA stays.

See my mini report to come. Cheers

Posted by
1359 posts

Stanserhorn Summit & Open Air Cable Car - Lucerne
Few months ago I was intrigued by a pix of an open air cable car, and found one of the locations, just outside Lucerne.
We had a great time this evening visiting this area.
The train trip is about 20 minutes from Lucerne.
Get off the train, turn left, walk two blocks, turn left, and you're in this cute little town., about a five minutes walk total. Straight ahead is the small funicular entrance. The first part of the journey is in vintage wood trolley- type cars, and then you transfer to the open-air cable car. ( There is an indoor section.) This upward ascent is another ten minutes. So the whole journey from the Lucerne train station is about 45 minutes to the summit.
What an incredible view! There's a cafeteria-type restaurant , an indoor view restaurant , and a large outdoor view area for drinks and purchased food. Free blankets are available --especially nice for evenings. If you take a 15 minute hike, all uphill, you will actually be at the summit, with 360 views. Even tho a little hazy, the views were incredible in all directions!
We left around 6pm to catch the sunset.
It was such an easy jaunt, certainly not an all-day trip, and would be great Alps experience if you didn't have time for the Rigi or Pilates trips.
Because I hadn't heard of this mountain before, I was amazed by what a nice adventure it was, and it's all FREE with the Swiss Travel Pass.

Posted by
1359 posts

Switzerland - Pontresina - Part 2
Posted by Pat (San Diego, California) on 09/19/21 10:41 AM

What a hidden gem this town is. This was our substitute for not crossing the border to Lake Como. We had really wanted to revisit Varenna and the area, but with Covid, and the then-required quarantine period, [because our flight transferred thru Heathrow, ] we had to make the tough decision to reschedule those three nights.
Riding the Bernina Express was a bucket list item, and one I wasn't going to drop.
Having first spent a few days in Lucerne, Pontresina seemed a logical substitution for the Lake Como nights. As we journeyed towards, we covered the Abula Line of the Bernina Express, from Chur to Pontresina, with spectacular scenery as we traversed bridges over steep gorges, first built in the early 1900's, using hand-calculated math. I had done my research, so I could appreciate the engineering required, pre-computers. The RS Switzerland Guide also includes a section on these highlights.
As we arrived at the Pontresina train station, on a gloomy and rainy afternoon, my mood dropped. We waited in the rain for the bus [it's a 15 minutes walk uphill], and there appeared nothing noteworthy on the hill above. Drat-
We found our hotel, the Chesa Mulin, [RS recommended] with whom we booked directly, had great communication, received a senior discount, with breakfast, and passes for both the Bellavita public pool/spa and the local lifts. I still couldn't figure out what was worth seeing. The Coop grocery store was right next door the hotel, but it closed early on Saturdays, along with all day Sunday, so my Coke Zero addiction was left wanting.
After settling in, with a short nap, and trying not to be negative, the sun came out, and we explored the town- and wow!
The view from the train station was deceptive: there were many charming streets, views of the glaciers on the Alps, and mountain bikers everywhere. As my husband is a mountain biker, he was thrilled. And the mountains-the town is at 5,000ft elevation- this was a winter paradise ski town. After the rain, the air cleared, and the sunset was beautiful and golden, making for some of my more magical pictures.
As our hotel gave us free passes for the lifts, the next day we set out to ascend. We rode the in-town ski lift to Alp Languard, with even better views of the glaciers, against bright blue skies. There is a cute restaurant there, which closes at 5:00pm, [but the kitchen closes at 4:00pm. We found this out on another day when we tried to have an early dinner at the top.] There are many options for hikes.
But we also wanted to take advantage of the sunny weather, and explore Muottas Muragl, [8,000 ft.] whose cogwheel train is covered by the hotel pass, so we took the local bus to the foot of this peak, Punt Muragl stop. The beautiful day continued, the scenery was spectacular, and we could see St. Moritz in the distance. [All feedback discouraged our going to St. Moritz- all glitz and low on charm.] There were hikes of all levels, and even a short hike granted access to better vistas. There is also a cafe for a snack.
On our last day, it was time to ride the Bernina Express. One note- there is a charming train station actually in Pontresina, five minutes from town, called Surovas . It is a "Stop on Request"- a new term for us - for which one presses a button for a stop. Buttons are at the train station, and on the train. It's set in the woods, by the river, with the smell of fresh-cut cedar logs. The road to the station isn't paved, and there's no public transportation here, but it's actually in town. It would have made a much better first-impression than the Pontresina train station. And- easy access to the Bernina Express Regional trains...

Posted by
263 posts

I’m right there with you in my imagination, thanks for this!

Posted by
1359 posts

Bernina Express Regional Trains- [non-posh, non-panoramic trains] - Part 3
Posted by Pat (San Diego, California) on 09/19/21 07:03 PM

Based solely on the input from this Forum, we decided to use the regional trains for this route, from Pontresina to Campocologo, and back again. Because of the changing covid mandates, we didn't want to cross Italy into Tirano, then re-enter Switzerland. One of the train experts here on the Forum worked out the schedule for us, so that we boarded the regional train at 9:04 am, disembarked in less than two hours at the last Swiss stop, [10:51am] , waited 17 minutes, and boarded the returning train at 11:08 am. [We were incredibly thankful for this help; the hotel gave us a schedule, but the print was so small I had to photograph the pages and then enlarge them in order to read.] About a dozen other folks did the same, getting off at Campocologno. We wanted to ride to this last stop, as we wanted to experience the Brusio Viaduct, on which the train makes a 360 degree turn. On the regional trains, you can also hop off/on various stops for hiking and exploration.
The Regional train was great: not crowded, the windows opened and brought in the fresh mountain air, and we could easily change seats across the aisles, depending on the scenery. [These are also a plus for the covid situation.] In addition, my photographs came out amazingly well, without window glass glare, and having been taken from a moving train. We passed the panoramic trains a few times, and one could easily see that every seat was reserved; no reservations required for the regional trains. The regional trains are also free with the Swiss Travel Pass.
Having watched TV specials and U-Tube videos showing the Bernina Express highlights, I wondered if the real route would live up to expectations. However, not to worry, the scenery was fantastic!!! We had perfectly blue skies, clear air, glistening reflections in the glacier lakes, and panoramic views. We rode the route twice, and were in as much wonderment the second time as the first, and it was nice knowing what to expect around the next turn. All my research on the route allowed me to appreciate the Swiss ingenuity and precision required to build this train route in the early 1900's, especially in an era of hand-calculations, without aide of computer math.
We had brought snacks and nourishment for the four-hour round trip, and returned to the Pontresina / Surovas "Stop by Request" by early afternoon.
The rest of the day my husband rented a mountain bike from the hotel, half-day for very reasonable rates, and I took advantage of the Bellavita Pool, free pass from the hotel. The outdoor pool maintains 93 degrees year-round, and has a view of the Alps and glacier. The mixed-gender locker room was a surprise, but there were private changing stalls. I then wandered the shops on this Monday, as everything was closed on Sundays, but didn't purchase anything, as most shops sold high-end hiking and mountain biking equipment.
We had dinner at a wine bar/cafe, Gianottis Wilderei, with great Swiss wines and fresh food. I still have a hard time with a 8chf charge for bottled water, but there was never a line on any Swiss restaurant bill for a tip.
In Pontresina, many establishments did not have English menus, which was a surprise, so the waiter had to interpret the menu orally. It was deer season, so venison was on everyone's menu, which did not suit my fancy.
I do hope to return to this beautiful area, and take advantage of the many incredible hikes in the Alps and out to the glaciers.
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Posted by
1956 posts

Wow! I love your detailed report. Switzerland is on my list one of these days. I’m picturing those mountains in my mind’s eye, awe-inspiring!

Posted by
4606 posts

Hi Pat,

Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip with us! I truly enjoyed reading about your adventures.

Switzerland has been on my list and hopefully will get to travel there some day soon.

I noticed that you wrote separate trip reports (I usually do the same 😉)
You may consider adding a link (at the end of each of your trip reports) to the next trip report, so it will be easier to follow, thanks! 😊

Posted by
1359 posts

How does one add the link??? I can't figure out how to get the link "address". Thx so much!

Posted by
4606 posts

Hi Pat,

Go to your trip report on the forum
then

  • copy the link address by clicking the website address:
    Community.ricksteves.com

  • Then at bottom of your last entry, click on “edit” (blue font)

  • Then click on the small icon with the world globe with tiny green arrow just above where you typed your reply.

  • then paste the address you just copied.

  • Then you’ll see this: [enter link description here] where you can write the title you want, then click “OK”

Hope this helps 😉
Edited to add:
you could also add a link by following the instructions here

Posted by
1359 posts

Switzerland / Murren - Part 4
Posted by Pat (San Diego, California) on 09/21/21 05:30 PM

The folks here on the Forum helped this geographically inept traveller understand the Berner Oberland [I hope I summarized this correctly]:

Interlaken is the valley floor;
Lauterbrunnen is a little ways uphill;
continue further up and there's a "V" split, and Wegen sits at 4100 ft on one side, and Murren is elevated 5,000 ft. on the other side.
The Jungfraujoch is up beyond the Wegen side, and the Schilthorn is above Murren.
There is extended animated discussion here on whether Murren or Wengen is the better area to stay; each is beautiful and charming in its own way.
The total trip to Murren from Pontresina took about 6.5 hours with about eight changes. It was a rather efficient and non-hectic process, thanks to the Swiss and their "maddenly efficient" train systems.
The first 5.5 hours was on the SBB rail lines and involved about five smooth train changes. The SBB lines ended at Interlaken Ost. The next part was totally confusing to me, and I posted a late night-before query here on this Forum: "how do we actually get up to Murren?"
Soon I had received several very easy-to understand responses, assuring me that the Swiss had made the route, and the three changes, which took a total of an hour, quite easy once one was in Interlaken Ost:
1. train from Interlaken Ost to Lauterbrunnen;
2. gondola to Grutschalp
3. "streetcar" one-car train into Murren-
Yes - Success!!! AND- The Swiss Travel Pass covers everything up to Murren and Wengen.

We chose Murren at which to stay for four nights. [We had previously spent two night here with an RS tour, but had poor weather, so didn't ascend to any peaks. ] Hotel Bellevue, an RS favorite, welcomed us with an RS discount, great email communication, breakfast, and a fair cancelation policy. [Before Covid, did we worry about cancelation policies?] Booking directly with the hotel saved $$$. Our standard room was as described: clean, cozy, small balcony, with view of a mountain, and a very new and somewhat large bathroom. The room itself was European small. I debated about reserving a larger room on the Eiger side of the hotel, maybe even one with a corner balcony. It would have been another sobering 30% more, but now I think we should have splurged. Our plan was to slow down in Murren, and a larger room in which to relax may have been worth it, especially with rain coming. The hotel lobby was large and welcoming, with several overstuffed leather sofas and game tables; a great area in which to read on a rainy day. The hotel also had a large outdoor patio facing the Eiger, Monk, & Jungfrau, where they served dinner, drinks, and had patio furniture. On our first two evenings we had magnificent golden sunsets, some of my best pictures of the trip! The Coop store was two Murren blocks away, and the hotel had the only landramat in town. The hostess, Ruth, was wonderful.
I'm a vegetarian, [ I eat chicken], so Swiss dining can be a challenge. The restaurant at the Hotel Jungfrau had Thai chicken skewers [the 12-piece order feeds two] and a great vegetarian pizza. They served us free water with ice cubes! On one night we purchased salads -and wine- from the Coop store for dinner. We took the wine downstairs and sat on the large outdoor patio.
Our initial plan was to spend our first Murren day as a slow-down day, as the day before involved a lot of travel, and we had been on the road for a week. However, inclement weather was coming in two days, so if we wanted to get to a peak, it had to be the next day. We chose the Jungfraujoch.
...to be continued....
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Posted by
1359 posts

Switzerland - Jungfraujoch - Part 5 ( so far)
We woke up in Murren to a spectacular day for our Jungfraujoch trip, with nary a cloud in the sky. Inclement weather was coming, but not today.
The trip from Murren to the summit is a full two hours. One goes down into Lauterbrunnen ( trolley rail car, gondola, and train), and up past Wengen. There are about five connections in all. The Swiss Travel Pass covers up to Murren and Wengen, and give a 25% discount after that, so the cost was around $300 USD for the two of us. It's a full day experience, so plan for at least six hours for the round trip. I'd recommend a timed reservation. We thought we had one, when we bought the ticket the day before , as the Murren train staffer gave us a time to depart. We did not. A timed reservation costs about 5 chf more each way, and allows you to stand in the reserved line at the last two connections. Because we did not have such, the train filled up with one of the few tour groups, and we had an additional 25 minute wait, indoors, masked, no social distancing. I'm told that at peak times, the reserved tickets guarantee one a seat, instead of standing. This was the only crowd we experienced on our entire trip.
The last segment goes through the mountain, so is dark, and you are delivered in a basement-type structure at the conclusion of your rail ascent. It was a little confusing where to go to get outside to the mountain summit, as there is an ice cave, and several "experiences." It's a very commercial venture, but one is at the " top of Europe." Surprising were the number of folks, having been deceived by the 70-ish weather in the valleys, who were completely unprepared for the cold and snow: open-backed sandals and sundresses. I did see gals buying coats in the gift shop. I did buy a Jungfrau map mask in the gift shop- definitely unique!
Once outside- wow! We had dark blue skies, clear air, powdery snow, and not a cloud to be seen! The views were magnificent and breath-taking ( in addition to the 11,000 ft altitude.) There was a 360 degree observation deck, and access to the snow. Typical Swiss, the path upward was slippery and not shoveled, and it's up to you not to fall. The air is clean and brisk, the sun bright, and I marveled at all the hardy hikers, marching uphill in the snow to newer vistas. The experience is magnificent, and I did get some unbelievable pix of the summits and of the glacier.
There are restaurants in the structure, but there were fairly full, midday. I believe we spent about two hours just being there - a once-in-a lifetime experience.

The trip down was much less crowded, no real lines at the transfer points, again two hours back to Murren. There is a new gondola that shortens the trip, but I think it goes down towards Grindlewald. So many options for hikers !

There are some lovely stops on the way down; many folks were having lunch at KS, with a wonderful view of the summit, or getting off to explore Wengen. I wish we had done the latter, however we were nearing an exhaustion point in our trip, and ran out of energy . This day was to be our slow-down day, but due to the weather forecast , we had to pursue the Jungfrau! It was a wise decision, and left us with life-long memories.
We returned to Murren for the last of our spectacular sunsets.

Posted by
1359 posts

Switzerland - Gimmelwald & Murren in cloudy Weather - Part 6

We knew the clouds and rain were coming, and for our 3rd and 4th day in Murren, we happy to slow down. Laundry needed to be done, and the Bellevue hotel had the only laundromat in town. The machines were fairly easy to use, and one load to wash and dry was 10 chf, total.
No wake-up alarms, no running to train stations, just laziness, and getting up before the end of breakfast by 10:00am. A short jaunt to the Coop store and brousing in the few gifts shops provided entertainment.
As the forecasts predicted the heavy rain would hold off until late afternoon, we decided to hike down to Gimmelwald, which is an easy walk, about 45 minutes. It's a beautiful walk, crisp mountain air, waterfalls in the distance, and not quite fall yet. [In 2017 we did this walk as part of our RS Tour, which was a few weeks later, and the leaves were a beautiful golden.] We saw more chickens and goats than cows, which was mysterious, because I had heard cowbells from the hotel room. Gimmelwald almost looks like a movie set: wood stacked for winter precisely in order, the Swiss farm houses placed perfectly on the lush green hillsides, and the cool, clean air. As one first comes into the village, there's the "Honesty Shop", which is a small one-room store with local crafts and snacks, which is unmanned. Pick out your purchases, grab a bag, and slip your money into an envelope , into the box. I read that considering the high costs of Swiss labor, the owner still makes a nice profit, even if a few items "disappear". Further down the road are smaller honesty shops: just cupboards outside of farm houses, offering cheeses and fresh sausages. A little further down is "The Amazing Window Store," outside a B&B, which offers crafts and oil paintings, [subject: local scenery.] I did purchase a 5"x7" oil painting, a very unique souvenir.
Gimmelwald is very small, and I wouldn't envision actually staying there, as there's nary a grocery store, and maybe 2-3 cafes. We wandered a little more, and took the gondola back to Murren. Heavy rain came in the evening, and we took our wine and a book down to the welcoming Hotel Bellevue lobby.
Our last Murren day was also very cloudy, but again, Murren is a great location for a slow down. This would be our second miss for the Shilthorn , but having experienced all the glory of the Jungfrau, we weren't disappointed. We took short hikes, watching the clouds for rain, knowing that this would be our last day in the Alps, and that our trip was winding down. Four nights in Murren was perfect. The rain and heavy fog arrived in the evening, giving an eery glow to the lights, with haunting visibility.
When would we return the Alps?

Posted by
1359 posts

Switzerland : Bern on the Weekend & Abbott Self-Test- Part 7

On Saturday morning as we headed down the mountain from Murren. The rail car coming up were packed- definitely a difference between weekends and weekdays. As we descended, we saw the runners from the marathon. We had to make a decision- explore Wengen while towing our carry-on roller bags, or go directly to Bern, as Saturdays host the Farmers Market, and the shops were open. Previously I had been to Bern twice, on Sundays, when all the shops are closed [outside of the train station]. We chose Bern. Once down the mountain [took about an hour], the direct SBB train from Interlaken Ost to Bern took an hour. It's just amazing that the BO is so accessible from the cities!
Our hotel, Hotel Savoy, was less than 5 minutes from the train station Facing the train station, we went one block towards the back of the station, and turned right at the Burger King. [17chf for a Whopper.] We passed a large Coop City store, and found the hotel. The room was very modern, with the best rain shower I've ever experienced. The covid mandate for eating indoors started the next day, and as the friendly staff were very confused by the rules, offered to deliver breakfast to the room if necessary. I would definitely stay here again, both for the convenience and the service.
Bern was very busy with pedestrian traffic, as the day was in the 80's We wandered through the stores. We found great Mideastern meals at food trucks at the Farmers' market, and had a beautiful day to wander the stalls, which stayed open to 3:00pm. The regular shops close at 4:00pm on a Saturday. Bern overall had more food options for those of us growing tired of Swiss food, with many ethnic options, and cheap 10chf walk-up food places. Most of the restaurants had outdoor seating, as they had expanded onto the sidewalks and pedestrian streets.
The crowds of visitors stayed into the evening. The park two block straight out from the train station was very full of families, and the plaza in front of the station was packed with young people, many of them smoking. The train station was even more crowded this Saturday evening, and it's ironic, as the next day the Swiss government was going to regulate eating indoors at restaurants, yet the train station was mobbed. As we had to complete our covid self-tests the next morning, I was wary of crowds, kept our masks on, a bit tense.
As reported, Bern didn't really shine: there were many construction sites, the clock wasn't performing its whole routine, there were no colorful banners. Bern is a city I like and feel very comfortable in, but it wasn't spectacular. Maybe the stress of covid testing was clouding my outlook.
Sunday morning we completed our Abbott covid self -tests. We first watched the video again. It was easier to do one at a time, as we had to hold the phone screen over the test kit for 15 min; we couldn't find a good way to prop the phone screen over the test kit, which had to lie flat. Negative results on the Navica app took another 15 minutes. Easy -until my husband wanted to add his middle name to the app- there was no place for a middle name, [weeks ago I put mine in the first name place.] Well, the change caused the program to throw out his negative results!!! This was his error, no fault of the program. He retested immediately, with another negative result, but no the official results in the Navica app. Hours went by- no results , most likely because taking two tests in an hour was flagged. On phone hold 45 min, told not to worry, but nothing appeared. On a second call we learned that it was Sunday in Florida, staff was short, and tomorrow the results would post- [& that's what happened!]
Finally out of the hotel, we happened upon a Bike for Life health festival. A sleepy Sunday took on a festival air with a bike race, rock music, kiosks, bike demos, healthy living displays, & a walk-through colon with polyps to encourage folks to get colonoscopies.

Posted by
25784 posts

And, a walk-through colon with polyp

huh??

Posted by
1359 posts

Nigel, it was at the Health Fair. They were encouraging people to get colonoscopies. I just thought it was very different. I still can't decide whether to post the pix on my facebook page???