Grüße von der Schweiz!

7 Oct

Greetings from Switzerland!  So where did we leave off?  Ah, yes…we were on a water taxi heading for our car, making our way out of Venice, out of Italy, and on to the Swiss Alps…And let me just say, if we thought we’d had a gorgeous drive a few days earlier, we ain’t seen NOTHIN’ yet!  And let me go ahead and warn you, this will most definitely be a ‘photo-centric’ post…Trust me, you’ll see why!

We made it to the small, picturesque Swiss town of Morcote by midday- perfect stop for a lakeside (Lake Lugano) leg stretch (the pups were in Heaven!) and lunch!

Morcote, Switzerland...Just like a postcard...

Thomas, Party of 4...Showing what happy looks like...

I won't bore you with lots of food pictures here, but John's 'caught fresh outta the lake this morning' pasta was just too pretty too pass up 🙂

And Mom got to try her first authentic Bruschetta...Grilled whole grain garlic bread topped with olive oil, tomatoes and fresh basil...

Happy.

Back into the car we go, bound for Grindelwald, a small Alpine village in central southern Switzerland.  Before I continue, you should check out the new map on the Maps page.  See that huge mountain range in the middle of the country?  Yep, we had to cross that!

At the foot of the Alps...

You can see the road we're climbing on the right, trailing off into the distance...

Climbing...The temperature is dropping and our ears are popping 🙂

Of course we had to sneak in a few self-portraits! You can see part of the road we just climbed on the right...

At the peak of one range, heading down into the valley toward the village...

The Alps, the largest mountain range in Europe, are split into five climate zones, each with a different environment. The climate, plant life and animal life vary on different sections or zones of the mountain.  We spent time in all five zones :).

  1. The section of the Alps that is above 3,000 metres is called the névé zone. This area, which has the coldest climate, is permanently coated with compressed snow. That is why plants are scarce in the névé zone.
  2. The alpine zone lies between the height of 2,000 and 3,000 metres. This zone is less cold than in the névé zone. Wildflowers and grasses grow here.
  3. Just below the alpine zone is the subalpine zone, 1,500 to 2,000 metres high. Forests of fir trees and spruce trees grow in the subalpine zone as the temperature slowly goes up.
  4. At about 1,000 to 1,500 metres high is the arable zone. Millions of oak trees sprout in this area. This is also where farming takes place.
  5. Below 1,000 metres are the lowlands. Here, a larger variety of plants are produced. Aside from plants, villages are also in the lowlands because the temperature is more bearable for both humans and animals.

Through the valley...

Coming into Grindelwald...We just loved how it's nestled in the Alps...

Some factoids about Grindelwald that may surprise you- they did us!  With an area of 66 sq. mi, only 1.8% is settled by buildings or roads.  29% is used for agriculture, 16% is forested, 0.8% is either rivers or lakes.  So what about the other half, you ask?  A whopping 52% is unproductive land due to rockiness and glacier coverage.  WOW.

Grindelwald has a population of 3,860 with about 16% being made up of foreign nationals.  As is the case for the entire Swiss population, the residents here are generally very well educated- 67% of the population over age 25 have completed a minimum of a college degree.  The unemployment rate is less than 3%.  Thumbs up, Swiss folks! 🙂

Downtown Grindelwald...That's our hotel on the right...

View from our balcony...

What better way to settle into our Alpine night than with an authentic Swiss dinner?!  So we found the perfect, quaint Rosti Lodge built into the side of a mountain, complete with oil lanterns, checkered table cloths and stuffed elk heads adorning the cedar walls.  Oh, and in case you’re not familiar with Rostis (I’ve actually been making healthy ones for years- I totally recommend them for those of you fellow foodies!), it’s a national Swiss dish made of grated potatoes pan fried in a skillet with various ingredients like bacon, onions, cheese, herbs, etc.  So basically, it’s like the most awesome, crispy-on-the-outside-tender-in-the-middle, SCRUMPTIOUS hash browns EVER!

But before I get ahead of myself…we started the meal with another authentic country staple…REAL Swiss cheese, in the form of fondue!  For the record, just about every restaurant offers cheese fondue, probably because, next to tourism, cheese production is the area’s main industry.  The evidence?  How about the thousands of cows, each with his own bell :), grazing in every pasture as far as the eye can see!

Don't you just love them?! And they have cow bells! We all fell asleep to their 'ringing...' 🙂

OK, back to dinner…

Swiss cheese fondue, served with whole grain bread cubes and jacket potatoes. DELISH.

My Rosti...with Farmers cheese, over-easy eggs and Cervelas (Swiss sausage)- yep, I actually chose a sausage dish! One of the BEST meals I've had in Europe.

I wasn't the only one who loved this meal 🙂

Early the next morning, we set our sights high…Very high…As in the Top of Europe high.  That’s right, folks, we boarded Europe’s highest railway and headed up the mountain to the Jungfraujoch, dubbed the ‘Top of Europe.’  A little background information first…

Adolf Guyer-Zeller began construction of his 4 mile long, 25% grade railway and tunnel(it goes through the Aletsch glacier) in 1898, originally planning to have 7 stations inside the tunnel before reaching the summit. The 16-year construction phase was troubled with problems including monetary shortages, inclement weather and mounting deaths due to construction accidents, the worst being in 1908 when 30 tons of dynamite accidentally exploded. Once construction was halted, the tunnel reached only to the height of the Jungfraujoch, rather than the originally-intended Sphinx (now a research lab), with only two intermediate stations with viewing windows placed in holes used to remove excavated rock during construction.

Just so you know, it takes about 1.5 hours to get from Grindelwald to Jungfraujoch. And every minute of the ride is like a magazine picture…

From the train, leaving Grindelwald…

Heading on up...Switching climate zones...

Taken from inside the Aletsch glacier at the first viewing window stop...

And again from inside the glacier, from the second viewing window...This is the Eismeer, the 'Sea of Ice...'

Of course, Max and Dulcie love train rides, too! 🙂

Then we were there, at the Jungfraujock...The Top of Europe! Yep, that's deep in a block of ice...Brrrr!

The Jungfrau Region, south of Interlaken, is the rather uninspiring title foisted on what is perhaps the most dramatic, certainly the most memorable, mountain scenery in the whole of Switzerland. Yes, the Matterhorn may be more recognizable, but the sheer scale of the awesome giants, on offer here at close quarters, takes your breath away.  The area is dominated by the mighty triple crest of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau (Ogre, Monk and Virgin) – three giant peaks rising side-by-side into the sky, with the Jungfrau being the highest at 12,800 ft, the Top of Europe.

Not far east of the col rises a peak called the Sphinx, which has an elevator to the summit, a small viewing platform, a scientific observatory, and Europe’s highest radio relay station.  The Jungfraujoch is also home to one of the Global Atmosphere Watch’s atmospheric research stations. The high altitude, clear air and easy access by mountain railway are ideal conditions for a wide range of scientific work. Astronomers, geologists, physicists, meteorologists and hydrologists all use the research station daily.

Map of the Top...

Our time at the Top of Europe was nothing short of AMAZING.  Seriously, we saw things that we never-in-a-million-years thought we’d get to see firsthand.  Everywhere we turned, it was as though National Geographic could be shooting its next cover, it was that bright, and beautiful, and breathtaking.

Inside the Aletsch glacier, in the Ice Palace...Yes, even the floor is slippery ice...

Ice sculptures

Scientists study the tiny bubbles frozen in the ice to get a better idea of air quality in years (and decades and centuries) past...They can also see the passage of time by the layers of ice (much like with rock sediment and tree rings). You can see the dark line behind us...That was from 1947.

Max's feet were freezing (of course they were!)...Dad was such a trooper to carry him through the entire Ice Palace (John carried Dulcie) 🙂

Venturing out onto the glacier...

You can't really tell, but part of this is snow and part of it is clouds...There are no words...

One of my favorite pictures of my parents...Ever.

The Sphinx Research Station, peaking out from behind the peak above...

John wanted to be the photographer 🙂

The pups, exploring the top of the Alps 🙂

We managed to scoop them up for a quick 'Thomas, Party of 4' shot 🙂

Warming up (yep, German-style with a beer! Ha!) before heading back down on the train...

So that was our time at the Top of Europe- it was FABULOUS!  And before you ask, no, it actually wasn’t too blustery cold!  Once the sun was up and shining (there wasn’t much wind), it was pretty comfortable standing out on the glacier.  Yes, inside the Ice Palace, surrounded by ice and without any outside light, was friggin’ freezing, but just the idea of being inside the glacier helped balance that out! 🙂  Let’s head back down to Grindelwald…

Switching climate zones again...

Complimentary Postcard 🙂

Summer changing to fall...

Back in the valley...

Well, folks, after a brief stop at a fondue bar to warm up, we piled back in the car and made our way back to Stuttgart, concluding Part 2 of ‘Thomas, Party of 6’s,’ most recent Italian-Swiss adventure and I’ve got to say, it will definitely go down as the best of all…for a hodgepodge of reasons…Returning to a country we love, exploring a new country to see sights we couldn’t even imagine, eating our faces off (2 solid weeks of delicious food!), enjoying perfect (nearly) the whole time…And the best part? Sharing all of the above with our best friends.  Life is good, kids.

Thomas, Party of 6...

3 Responses to “Grüße von der Schweiz!”

  1. Coley October 9, 2010 at 9:15 PM #

    Love that picture of your Dad carrying Max. That’s such a sweet picture!

  2. Robin October 8, 2010 at 10:10 PM #

    Erin and John: Thank you both for the trip of a lifetime. The 4 of us will have these memories forever. And you are so right – “Life is GOOD!!”

    • Erin T. October 9, 2010 at 1:39 PM #

      Thank YOU for coming to share in our adventure! Having you both here was the best part of our entire time in Europe. Can’t wait to see you in 3 weeks!

      Erin K. Thomas, President Lowcountry Pet Sitters 843.327.7487 http://www.LCPetsitters.com

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