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Travel in Switzerland: Mount Pilatus

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Travel in Switzerland: Mount Pilatus

We made a split decision one day to visit the beautiful Mount Pilatus in Summer last year. I only just realised i never blogged about my experience. I have many friends visiting beautiful Switzerland and I always recommend a trip to Mount Pilatus as we just had an incredible experience here. So here’s my run-down of our overnight stay.

Getting there

As with all the mountain tops in Switzerland, i recommend going on a clear day, which usually means a last minute booking. However i would much rather this, than spending a whole night looking out on to complete white nothingness of clouds! We actually booked to go up there at christmas time last year, we were packed, bought our train ticket and was just sipping on our Starbucks at the train station when we received a call from the hotel telling us they had to cancel the reservation as the winds were too stong and access to the peak had been closed. At the time I was pretty sad we had to cancel our trip, but in the long run it was better as we visited in the Summer when we had beautiful views out.

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Mount Pilatus is very close to Lucerne so we first took an hours train ride there from Basel. From Lucerne, there are two ways to access Pilatus-Kulm - Cogwheel train or Cablecar/Gondola. We decided to go up via the cogwheeel and down via the Gondola the next day. To get on the cog-wheel you have to first make your way to Alpnachstad - which you can do via train (about 20 minutes) or by boat. We went by train, but I think the boat could have been a really great experience.

Once at Alpnachstad, we purchased our tickets - the price is CHF72 for a return ticket (36 with the half fare card). You can take a cheesy tourist photo pretending to be on the little red train here too. See right for my cringeworthy moment! There is also a cafe at the base to enjoy some food and a cup of coffee too.

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I recommend trying to get in the lowest level of the cogwheel, from here you have a very nice view out of the bottom of the train as you go up. You do have to change trains half way up so it’s a good opportunity to switch position on the train if you want. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the top on a gradient of 48% which makes it the steepest cog-wheel in the world! The views are really beautiful so its a pleasurable 30 minutes.

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At the top

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When we first arrived, we actually checked in to the hotel straight away so we could put our bags down and have a look around. We chose to stay at Hotel Pilatus Kulm in their standard double room. There is a cheaper hotel on site also called Hotel Bellevue. We were really pleased with the room, it was nice and large, clean, and had beautiful views out onto the mountains. The cost of the hotel also includes dinner and breakfast in the price, which i’ll touch on more later.

We set back outside to have a look around. At this stage it was about 5 or 6pm and still bright outside. One side had clear views, while the other side was covered in white clouds making the view a complete mystery to us until morning. Apart from a large viewing platform, there are about 3 different paths/hikes you can do. It was much bigger than I anticipated. We set off on a hike on the side we had the clear views. The pathway was all level making it a pretty easy walk. Heights make me a bit nervous and there were definitely parts that made me a little anxious - mainly because all that was between you and a steep decline was a flimsy little wire fence! The hiking trail was virtually empty as most people had to catch the last gondola and train down the mountain. We maybe came across 2 other parties walking back. Aside from the breathtaking views, there were many alpine flowers in bloom and we saw a few Ibex drinking water very close to us.

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We actually didn’t reach the end of this hike as we decided to head back after about 40 minutes so we could get some dinner before watching the sunset. Our walk was definitely at a leisurely pace - we probably stopped for about 15 minutes just to watch the Ibex alone!

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Dinner at Hotel-Kulm

There is a set 4 course menu at dinner - you have a choice of two main dishes. I’m not sure how they handle allergy requests but i’m sure they would have a process if you mentioned it at the time of booking.

I could not fault the dinner. It was of really high quality, especially as this was included in the price. We ordered a glass of wine each that we had to pay on check out. Totally worth it though - it was a really relaxing dining experience in a beautiful room and it wasn’t too busy either. I just wish the windows were lower to you could take in the view from your seat. All i could see was a tip of a mountain and blue sky which i guess isn’t so bad.

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Sunset

The best thing about staying at one of the hotels is that the whole place empties out quite a bit - so you feel like you get the place to yourselves! We decided to hike up one of the lookouts to watch sunset. It is a steep short ascent but you are rewarded with absolutely beautiful 360 degree views including of Lake Lucerne.

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Sunrise

We got up very early in the morning the next day to catch the sunrise - totally did not feel like rolling out of bed before 5am, but I also didn’t want to miss an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often. I am so glad i did get up because we had such a magical morning. The clouds that were covering the other side of the mountain had cleared too. We hiked up to the other lookout this time and we were the only ones there. It was so quiet, with only the sound of these big bees and cowbells ringing in the distance.

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There is a place around the back of the hotel that you can exit on to the mountain and climb to a photo spot. It is very dangerous as the pathway is very narrow. I know i couldn’t have done it myself, however Patrick had more courage than I and did it for the picture… all while i was begging “please do not fall and die!” bUt with that beautiful morning light, it created a pretty epic picture in the end!

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Going Home

After our leisurely walk basking in the golden morning light, we packed up our things and got some breakfast. The breakfast wasn’t incredible - stock standard croissant, eggs, and meusli. We have had better at cheaper hotels to be honest and I was expecting a little more considering our wonderful dinner the night before.

We had one last leisurely stroll to take in the views before getting one of the early gondola’s down the other side of the the mountain. The gondola down is a new panoramic one that fits quite a lot of people but we were so lucky to have the gondola to ourselves. The trip down was honestly so amazing! The views were incredible - i wish it went a little slower! You can see some of these views in my video below. On the way down in our spacious huge gondola, we saw one going up the other way which was packed out with tourists. I felt so grateful to not be in there!

After the panoramic gondola, we had to take two other smaller gondola’s down toward Lucerne. We didn’t stop at the changeovers but they had playgrounds for kids to play on there.

Final thoughts

I felt like we did Pilatus right - going in the afternoon and spending the night. I really don’t like crowds and being squashed in gondolas and I feel like we escaped all of that doing it the way we did. I would recommend anyone visiting Pilatus to consider staying overnight. I’m glad we did it before kids as there really wasn’t any playgrounds or entertainment for kids that i could see. But for us, It was peaceful and relaxing. I got that feeling I always sought when travelling - that awe of how big and majestic our landscapes can be. It humbles you.

I put together a little video that strings together all my little iphone clips. It’s not artfully or professionally done but thought it gives a good idea of what its like for those thinking about going.


**Just in case you were wondering - this post isn’t sponsored, we paid full price for everything so this is my honest review.



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Travel in Switzerland: Niesen

I've been working on a couple of shoots I can't post yet, however i've also been taking advantage of this beautiful summer weather by making a few short trips here and there!  I have a friend over from Australia so we thought we'd venture to the top of a mountain.  The Niesen is a mountain which i first spotted in Spiez - Patrick an I thought "what a perfectly shaped mountain!"... It's featured in many of my Spiez photos. like this one:

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its been dubbed the Swiss Pyramid because of its beautiful shape.  We went up on a gorgeous day in June first thing in the morning.  We left Basel at 7am and were on the funicular to its peak at 9am.  I like being the early bird so its a little quieter.  The funicular is red (in true swiss-style) and takes about 30 minutes - you have to change train half way.  Tickets were quite expensive - its CHF57- return but with day ticket on the trains or a swiss pass its CHF28.50.

The views are pretty spectacular at the top - it has 360 degree views, a cafe/restaurant (apparently also a small hotel) and a pretty cool playground for kids. We stopped for a coffee and took in the views, snapped a few pictures and went back down around 11/11:30am. 

If you're thinking about going here are my tips:

  • Choose a clear day - it was just starting to cloud up when we went and it's pretty pointless going up if all you can see it white... unless you're into clouds...

  • If possible, get the lowest row in the train on the way up, you'll get beautiful views! Second best is close to a window.

  • Have a hot drink at the top and soak in those views!

  • There's a particular point on the pathway that doesn't have a fence. Sit for a picture here and it looks like you're right on the edge of a cliff (in reality, there's a steep hill but you can still put your feet on the ground.

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Travel in Switzerland: Laufenburg

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Travel in Switzerland: Laufenburg

I was on the train to a client in Schaffhausen when I noticed the most gorgeous little city with a bridge in the middle of it.  It was leafy green with terracotta roofs peeping out and the beautiful green Rhine flowing at its heart.  My eyes literally bulged out, I quickly got out my phone to open maps to find out exactly where I am, but because I was in Germany at the time, my phone didn't have any internet so I couldn't work it out.  

Fast forward some months and I took Patrick back to Schaffhausen to see the Rhinefall.  I told Patrick about this little mysterious city i saw... I didn't know when it would pop up but I told him to keep an eye out... Together with his Swiss knowledge and my investigative-reading-road-sign skills, we worked it out to be Laufenburg!  

Fast forward some more months later and we finally got our act together to make a day trip of it. We went on a Sunday so the city was quiet and quaint - we hiked up a mountain (okay, it was a hill) to reach this gorgeous lookout (okay, it was someone's driveway) overlooking these cute goats and picture perfect views of the city.  The bridge in the city acts as a border between Switzerland and Germany and a border control office sits on the Swiss side as a reminder.  

This town has to be one of my favourites I've seen so far... so picturesque - I definitely recommend a visit!

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An Australians' experience living in Switzerland

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An Australians' experience living in Switzerland

It's been a year since this Australian got on a plane to Switzerland, not knowing how long we'll be here for or what challenges, travels and momentous occasions will unfold.  I have to start this post by counting my blessings and although not every moment has been peachy, I do realise not everyone is fortunate enough to live in two beautiful countries such as Australia and Switzerland. 

I wanted to share what its been like for me, an Australian, to move to Basel - the quirks, the awesome surprises and the things that make me want to pack my bags and take the next plane back to Australia. 

The scenery

I had a funny encounter with a check-out lady who picked up on my accent. She couldn't understand why I had moved to Switzerland when I came from such a beautiful country.  She said she'd move to Australia in a heartbeat if she won lotto.  I remember saying something along the same lines to my husband - "Why would you move to Australia when you live in Switzerland!?" I'm not denying the beauty of Australia, however the Swiss landscape leaves little to be desired (okay, maybe the beach!) - majestic mountains and crystal blue lakes do something to my soul! I feel at peace around a landscape so grand.  

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They're not breakfast people

I tell you, I'm missing the cool cafes/restaurants of Perth - Harvest Espresso, Bib & Tucker, Imp, Tiisch and so many more.  I am dying for some creative breakfast food!  The truth is, they don't really do breakfast here - it's all croissants and muesli, which is okay... but it's a bit boring. Their brunch consists of meat, cheese, bread and if they're really out there - scrambled eggs and bacon.  It sounds like such a superficial thing, but visiting cool cafes was one of my most favourite things to do to relax. Cool interior design, awesome tasty food and good coffee.... c'mon Switzerland!

Post comes on Saturdays 

Poor posties - they work 6 days a week... but it means we can get packages delivered on Saturdays too!  hooray!

The seasons

In Australia  (Perth specific)- there's basically two seasons - hot/warm weather, or rainy, slightly colder weather.  In Switzerland, Every one of the seasons brings a different landscape - the many flowers of spring time, the warm summer and blue skies, the spectacular shades of orange, red and brown in Autumn (where leaves actually fall off the trees) and the snow, bare trees and blistering cold of winter. I've seen so much more beauty in the seasons!!

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Swiss checkout assistants don't work as hard as the Aussies

Okay, maybe they do work just as hard but I actually miss food shopping in Australia.  It's so easy - great variety in each spacious supermarket, pick your food take it to the checkout, then put the bagged groceries in your trolley, to the car and then your home.  In Switzerland - It's a bit more effort.  When you pick your fruit and vegies, you then have to weigh it, put in the code and put a sticker barcode on each item.  Then when you get to the checkout (its a bit like Aldi) you have to bag it all yourself. It gets a bit chaotic when you're trying to bag everything before the next customer, pray you remembered to put the barcode on everything, and pay for it.  All my items are just thrown in the bags... lucky the bread is crusty and doesn't get squashed too much!  All plastic bags cost money here (so everyone generally brings their own) and then you've got to lug it home on the tram.  Food shopping should be an olympic sport here. I should get a medal! haha. 

Its easier to buy alcohol than panadol 

In supermarkets you can easily buy alcohol, even my corner supermarket has a good selection of wine, beer and spirits.  But panadol?  You need to go to the pharmacy.  We had a funny situation when we went to Mürren for a weekend and needed some panadol, but because it was a little town (only accessed by a gondola) and the town doctor passed away recently (!!!)  you couldn't buy any! Over the counter drugs are quite easily accessed in Australia, didn't realise this until I came here.  It annoys me I have to make a special trip to the pharmacy to buy panadol (first world problem, I know - but I live in Switzerland, all my problems are first world)

Dogs come everywhere

Honestly, nothing brightens my day more than seeing the happy dog on the tram that gets to go everywhere with their owner.  People are always out with their dogs, walking them, food shopping, getting lunch. Just don't forget to buy a big dog a ticket for the tram. I've seen (a few times now) dogs being carted around in prams. They honestly live the best life here, and they're pretty well behaved too... oh to be a dog in Switzerland! 

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No beach, No worries

So, there's no beach here - but that doesn't stop the Swiss from enjoying Summer!  They're out on the Rhine and multiple rivers and lakes around Switzerland with their beach towels and big inflatable flamingos bathing in the water and sunbathing on the grass. Some of the lakes are so clean and clear you can see the ducks legs paddling beneath the surface.

In fact, all year round - everyone is out enjoying the outdoors - hiking, skiing, swimming, skydiving, base jumping... it really is an adventurers paradise.

On the topic of water though- the water is so fresh and clean you can drink it straight from the tap. No filter required.

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They don't hip hooray 

After happy birthday we always do the hip hip hooray in Australia... maybe even a 'for she's a jolly good fello'.  But after the happy birthday (which they weirdly, all sing in English) there's nothing else... feels like its missing something!

Travel is cheap and easy

Travel is so easy. In a few short hours (or less) I can be in Italy, France, or Germany.  Its a 3 hour train trip to Paris, I can be in Germany or France in 10 minutes, and a short plane trip can take you to any european city.  The train trips through Switzerland  have the most beautiful views - I cannot put away my camera! Every time I'm on a train in Switzerland.. I count my lucky stars i'm here and get to see views like this on the reg. 

We also have access to a 'half-card'. We pay an annual fee to get half price off our train tickets - it's more than paid for itself. Sometimes they also have special day tickets - CHF29 for a day ticket. Considering I can get to any place in Switzerland in less than 3 hours it's easy and affordable to do day trips.

View from the Train over Lac Léman (Lake Geneva)

View from the Train over Lac Léman (Lake Geneva)

So much more smoking

I have to say... it's my biggest gripe about living here.  There's double the amount of smokers here than in Australia. Switzerland is very behind in smoking laws.  They're allowed to smoke on train/tram/bus platforms, they smoke right at the entrance to many shops and restaurants and even in kids playgrounds.  (I should note they are just about to trial no smoking in 6 train stations across Switzerland - it's been met with much resistance).  In summer, I feel sad that I can't really dine outdoors without breathing in smoke.  It's made me so grateful for the strict laws in Australia that makes fresh air a common privilege, but ugh.... It's the bane of my existence here in Switzerland.

Tradition 

Switzerland is steeped in tradition.  Patrick always snickered at 'tradition' in Australia - as it usually means it's only been running for around 100 years (or less). In Switzerland there are many traditional events such as Fasnacht, Vogel Gryff and Desalpé (in the mountains) which have been running for more than a few centuries - sometimes it's been running for centuries beyond what's recorded so it's hard to determine when these started. It actually boggles my mind thinking of all the people that have come before us also taking part in these events.  Sometimes I'm amazed that such outdated, and down-right weird events still take place. In Zurich, they burn the 'böög' (English translation: boogie!) until its' head falls off. The longer his head stays on, the better the summer will be.  

Desalpé in Charmey. When the farmers adorn the cows/goats with bells and flowers and walk them down the mountain for winter.

Desalpé in Charmey. When the farmers adorn the cows/goats with bells and flowers and walk them down the mountain for winter.

Expensive is an understatement

When I first arrived, I mentally converted the cost of things to AU$.  Probably a bad move!  AU$40 for a small plate of sushi (from the supermarket!), AU$20 for two Starbucks coffee's, AU$120 for two indian dishes, rice and 2 non-alcoholic drinks,  AU$5 for a short one-way tram trip to the city, AU$320 for a doctor visit (until you reach your health insurance excess).  The bright side is you obviously get paid much better here too.  But I can understand why some people can't afford to visit Switzerland for very long, but it makes visiting Italy even sweeter - "wait, the best pasta ever for 12 euro??? heck-to-the-yes".

They're serious about rules

Noise and recycling have the most restrictions in Switzerland. No noise from 10pm, and between 12-2pm and Sundays. So don't even think about assembling your ikea furniture during those times.  For recycling: take your glass to a local recycling station, take your plastic to the supermarket, your cardboard needs to be put together for a separate verge-side collection and general rubbish needs to be in swiss-approved bags for collection.  And for when the noise and recycling come together: No glass recycling on the weekends because it makes too much noise when you drop it in. Yes... I'm serious. 

One of many delicious meals enjoyed in Italy!

One of many delicious meals enjoyed in Italy!

So overall - what's it like?

There are obviously things i miss about Australia - Sunshine almost all year round, fresh clean air, creative affordable food, and of course - my friends and family.  However 2017 was honestly one of the best years of my life.  I've learnt some German, been able to travel to some GORGEOUS places with amazing people and got to know so much more about how the Swiss live and enjoy life. Switzerland is a visual feast for the eyes and as a photographer I couldn't be happier.  Financially, I am so grateful to Switzerland for giving us opportunity to build our wealth for our futures.  It's taken some time to shift perspective from what I'm missing in Switzerland to what I have, but I think ending a year here and being able to reflect on all I've experienced has made me super grateful and 'hashtag-blessed' for all it's given me.  

Even though I wrote this blog post after a year, I am still continually surprised by things which are new to me - pleasant surprises and also things which are darn confusing.  I'm looking forward to another year of learning and swiss experiences.  If you haven't been, Switzerland is definitely worth a visit - let me know if you want any recommendations. 

Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Lauterbrunnen Valley.

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