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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: 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 expats guide to Basel Fasnacht

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An expats guide to Basel Fasnacht

Even though I had been in Basel for three christmas's, I'd never once seen Fasnacht.  Patrick had, of course, known and loved this festival since he was a child. I am so proud of him as this past year he has learnt to play the trombone to take part in Fasnacht with Grachsymphoniker.   I remember even in the years we were in Australia, he would be up in the middle of the night watching the live stream on the internet.  I didn't quite get it!

Now I do.  Basler Fasnacht has made the UNESCO list for Intangible Cultural heritage and it is referred to as die drey scheenschte Dääg (the three most beautiful days). The only way for me to describe it is an explosion of colour, music and art.   There are many similar festivals nearby in Switzerland and Germany however the Basel Fasnacht is the most well-known.  It also has its own unwritten rules (i'll detail some of them below) and 'Baseleans' can always spot (and frown upon) the outsiders when they don't follow the 'rules'.

Fasnacht begins with people pouring down the streets of basel early on Monday morning making their way to the city for morgestraich.  This alone was quite a surreal experience. Getting up before 3am to cram on a tram with adults and children alike dressed up in their festive costumes and then walking over the mittlerebrücke with hundreds of others, wishing each other 'schöne morgestraich'.  You can feel the buzzing energy as people anticipate the start of the carnival. At exactly 4am, the city lights go out.  Even stores which are open have to block out their windows.  All you can see are the colourful lanterns and all you can hear the sound of piccolo's and drums as they parade in the old town of Basel.  Each of the Fasnacht groups, called cliques, choose a theme which is conveyed in their lantern artwork and costumes.  They comment on social and political issues and are usually highly satirical. I heard someone say that Fasnacht takes the dark and turns it into light!  This year we saw the 'Ballistic Games' featuring North Korea and USA in an olympic style parade and also a few featuring 'bugs' commenting on the newly opened restaurant that sells a burger made from insects!

The carnival lasts for exactly 72 hours - finishing on Thursday morning at 4am.  I spoke to a band member who said Fasnacht has so many elements of life in it - It has joy, music, love, colour, humour and celebration, but because it runs through the night, you can feel exhausted. It also highlights some pretty grim themes happening in our world (even if it is in a humourous way).  It was incredible to hear some of the members of Grachsymphoniker had injuries (or injured them self during the carnival) yet continued through pain to be part of it.  You witness great loyalty and team spirit amongst the bands. 

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A parade (Cortège) of all the groups happens Monday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon.  All the shops close so everyone can enjoy the festivities.  It consists of the guggemusik (brass bands), cliques (pipers and drummers) with their lantern floats, and waggis wagen.  People (mostly kids) will hold out their hands and call after the waggis to give them treats - they hand out flowers, fruit and vegetables, drinks (even beer!), lollies and loads of confetti!  Most of the kids are after the lollies - I witnessed a child get quite disappointed when he put his hand out and received a carrot!

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If you are a Fasnacht first-timer, you might want to follow these unwritten rules of Fasnacht:

  • Confetti (Räppli) is only sold, bought and thrown in individual colours. This was put in place to stop people reselling 'used' confetti. You also should not pick up confetti from the floor and throw it again - make sense... who wants confetti mixed with dirt thrown in your face?

  • Confetti should not be thrown at masked participants of the carnival - I suppose this is a sign of respect for those taking part

  • Everyone should buy a Fasnacht Blaggedde (badge) - they have 4 'levels' of badges ranging in price. The proceeds go to each of the groups to help them cover expenses of the carnival. If you're not wearing one - expect to get dumped with confetti a few times! They say if you don't buy one, you are harming Fasnacht

  • Fasnacht is renowned for its masks, not painted faces as it is in other carnivals. You'll stick out like a sore thumb (perhaps not in a good way) if you paint your face rather than wear a mask.

  • There may be times you have to cross the parade route to get to another location - its is disrespectful to cross through a band, you should wait until it has passed and cross between bands. On this same note, you should always move out the way for the bands. More than likely, they will not stop/move for you anyway, so if you don't want a drumstick in your face - make way!

  • If you speak German, you should know that everyone is on first name basis at the carnival, which means you'll be saying the informal 'du' instead of formal 'Sie'

  • Guggemusik don't perform at Morgestraich as this is reserved only for Clique groups, but in return the Tuesday night concert at Marktplatz is only for guggemusik

  • When they turn the lights off at 4am for morgestraich it should be be dark - photo flashes are frowned upon!

A couple of other things you should know is that Fasnacht is loud and crowded and takes over the entire city.  The trams don't run through the city which means you'll have to put on your walking shoes.  Due to the close proximity to the smoking-loving swiss, you'll probably inhale quite a bit of smoke too (and thats not including the smoke bombs they often let off).  But the joy, music and celebration is worth the inconveniences. I definitely think that everyone going through Basel should experience it!

Guess what!? I’m running mini sessions in the 2019 Basel Fasnacht. Check out this post for more info.

 

 

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La Desalpe de Charmey 2017

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La Desalpe de Charmey 2017

One of the top activities I had to see in Switzerland was the annual cow descent.  There are numerous throughout Switzerland but we chose Charmey - a french speaking town in the canton of Fribourg.  The cows here make the tasty, world renowned Gruyere cheese, and is said to be one of the best festivals around.  

The descent has been taking place each year for centuries, and the festival in Charmey has been running for almost 40 years.  After 100 summer days grazing in the Alps, the farmers return the cows to their valley pastures before the winter arrives.  Apparently these cows produce over 3,000 tonnes of cheese every summer.   Alpine cheese is highly prized due to the quality of the milk - the cows graze on only grass and herbs which gives the milk and cheese a great taste and excellent quality.

We ended up getting a hotel in Fribourg as the Charmey hotels were all booked out.  A sign of how popular this festival is.  We made our way early to charmey village via train and bus.  The first group of animals came shortly afterward.  Crowds and TV Stations watched on as the cows (and some goats) were celebrated, adorned with flower headdresses and cowbells.  The farmers wear traditional dress including hand-stitched leather satchels (which the farmers apparently keep salt for cheese-making). 

These days, there aren't many days in which we show gratitude and respect to animals which serve us humans.  These cows give us milk, and a source of food.  They are a livelihood for many farmers and an important part of the swiss culture and trade.  It makes me so happy to see a community (and many visitors) get behind it.  (A side note:  even through Gruyere cheese is relatively cheap and plentiful in Switzerland, it sells for roughly AUD$90 a kilo in Australia!)

There were also many stands for wine, crafts, and of course - cheese! Alphorn players and brass bands entertained the crowds as the cows, horses and goats made their way through the village.  Traffic was backed up as the cows took precedence.  I felt like a had a true Swiss experience and I hope many others get to see it!

I made a little video from some of my photos and video clippings which hopefully give you a good glimpse of what the day is like. 

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Switzerland Winterland

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Switzerland Winterland

I spent Christmas and new year in my new home in Switzerland (before a brief hiatus back in Perth). For an Australian, 15 degrees is pretty chilly and on those cold Perth mornings, 8 degrees is blistering cold! Well, my Aussie wardrobe wasn't really holding up in the Swiss winter.  In December, the temperature barely rose above 1 degree and if it did, it was for half an hour at 3pm, when it got to 3 degrees. 

As cold as it was, Switzerland has a charm about it.  I could look at that icy looking skyline forever (well, maybe if i was out of the wind and cold!). The christmas markets are spectacular. We enjoyed hot roasted salmon in bread rolls while looking at the stalls.  Enjoyed Gluhwein at crowded tables - everyone out enjoying themselves. I was sad to see it all packed down after christmas.  Nevertheless, I will be waiting for the next christmas markets to return!

Here are my favourite photos i took of our wintertime in Switzerland.

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