Our retirement adventures

Switzerland 2014

21 August

Up early for the first flight off the island since the end of January (Andorra), an alarm at 5:30 in the morning doesn’t feel right, and to think I used to do this on a regular basis when visiting clients in London. Thanks Mel for the lift!

BA flight to London City and a cooked breakfast included being most welcome and not expected. Bags checked all the way through was a bonus as at London City we could go through security and back air side immediately upon arrival rather than having to sit land-side for a couple of hours.

A four-hour wait, so catch up with emails and Lexulous before boarding for our flight to Zürich – strange lunch on board, Cous Cous salad and chocolate mouse. Arrival procedures good as usual and we are soon on train en route to Morges. A first for travel, going upstairs in a two deck train and despite being lunchtime, midweek and travelling 1st class, the train was exceptionally crowded.

Lots of line side graffiti to start with but we soon reach the countryside and then the mountains. The nearly three-hour journey passes quickly and at Morges, Martin, Nellie and two of their children, Stefan and Marlies meet us, take us on the Regional Train to Morges St Jean for the short walk to the Hotel Fleur du Lac for our first 4 nights.

Hotel Fleur du Lac, Morges

Hotel Fleur du Lac, Morges

We have a balcony room overlooking Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc so hopefully good views await us.

Morges, Lake side

Morges, Lake side

Morges could perhaps be best described as a commuter town for either Geneva or Lausanne but has some fine waterside properties and public buildings including the two waterside towers.

After some drinks with Martin & family we dine in-house and hit the bed totally zonked.

Double bed but two single duvets, what’s this all about?

22 August

After breakfast, catch the paddle steamer to Geneva.

Lake Geneva, paddle steamer

Lake Geneva, paddle steamer

Don’t really realise how much sun we are catching at the front of the boat as it chugs its way down the Swiss side and finally over to the French side for a couple of stops. Lots of people get off at the French stop of Yvoire but we carry on to Geneva, a 3.5 hour journey.

Cross the bridge for a coffee and cake before a visit to C & A (still selling Yessica, Clockhouse and the CANDA range nearly 15 years after they pulled out of the UK).

More viewing of the city, visit to co-op for some food for tonight and saunter to Station for journey back to Morges, it only takes 30 minutes by train! Walk back to hotel along lake front as next train to Morges St Jean would involve a 45 minutes wait.

Dinner on balcony with some Swiss wine bought at the nearby Aldi before drinks with Martin at the hotel.

23 August

A cloudier day although with no wind at first, but boy did it pick up later. Martin has arranged a BBQ at a nearby park and had originally invited a good crowd. However, as the weather was by now very blustery and cold, only one other person turned up, so disappointing for him.

Morges BBQ

Morges BBQ

Nevertheless, a good spread of Sausages, burgers, salad and fruit as well as some local beer (Boxer) with time to chat to Martin, Nellie, Stefan and Marlies.

Lunch over we retire to the hotel for a rest but get interrupted by several text messages from Flic and Mel re Flic’s wedding dress.

Dinner tonight booked with Martin, Nellie and Marlies but Sal never gets a chance to look at the photo Mel has sent of the wedding dress, the Internet is down – probably the Arab family whose elder children never left the hotel preferring to use the internet on their phones in the lounge area all the time!

Dinner is at a lakeside restaurant – – that appears to only have 5 tables so the booking Martin made was essential especially as the amount of fish available matches exactly the number of covers.

This is fish & chips Swiss style with the fish being caught earlier in the day on the lake by the chef. In fact we understand that all the fish for the town is caught by him. There was nothing wrong with the food (if you like fish with lots of bones that is) but it was a bit disconcerting that there are a number of cats running around the tables – no EEC Health & Safety rules here).

Still no Internet on return to hotel.

24 August

Hooray, croissants for breakfast before the other guests get there, and we have Internet access. Martin and Nellie pick us up and we are driven to the Cailler Chocolate Factory at Broc – -. The ticket issuing process is typical Swiss efficiency and our ticket is timed to ensure we  get on the tour in the right language.  Do Disney do different languages?  I don’t think so – one up to Cailler.

The whole story of how chocolate first came to Europe was told well along with the history of the company and why it was set up in the middle of nowhere.

FREE samples of chocolates!!!

FREE samples of chocolates!!!

Bringing the processes up to date we see the turning into bars of the chocolate, the wrapping process and then, the most important part of the day, the tasting.

Several trays were set up and were regularly restocked by the staff.

As soon as they had been restocked, us humans gobbled them all up.

No lunch needed especially as we had found time for a hot chocolate before the tour.

A few bars of chocolate had, of course, to be purchased before we left on our next adventure to the Gruyere factory.

Probably not as popular as the chocolate factory so no waiting to go in.

Gruyere cheese tour

Gruyere cheese tour

Handsets gave us a running commentary based first of all as if you were a cow eating the grass, right through to watching a vat of milk being turned into whey and the creation of a number of large cheeses that are then pressed and date,

Maturing Gruyere

Maturing Gruyere

company stamped before being left to mature.

A very efficient process including the smells of the flowers the cows eat.

Back to Morges via a traditional Swiss cafe (Restaurant de la Croix d’Or Catherine Tissot),

Jameson's Bar, Morges with the Bowen family

Jameson’s Bar, Morges with the Bowen family

Jameson’s pub where Marlies works, followed by a meal at the Bowen apartment and a Taxi back to hotel, a very enjoyable day but exhausting.

25 August

Taxi to station and catch train to Montreux and a change for our onward journey on the Golden Pass route to Lucerne through Gstaad, Speitz and Interlaken.

Third time I have been through Montreux but still haven’t seen any of the city.

Vineyards above Montreaux

Vineyards above Montreux

I had travelled the Golden Pass route to Speitz (and then on to Bern) after a business course some 20 years ago and as far as I can remember it was just as picturesque now as it was then, first of all climbing past the rows and rows of vineyards taking up every conceivable space on the south-facing cliffs above Montreux.

Swiss wine is wonderful but sadly they do not appear to export much of it to the UK.

Will just have to take the car next time!

En route, Interlaken to Lucerne

En route, Interlaken to Lucerne

Continually climbing we pass through pastures that are as green as imaginable but with only a few cows grazing. Levelling out around Speitz, we have to change trains – cross platform – for our onward journey.

Swiss village en route to Lucerne

Swiss village en route to Lucerne

Double glazing on the trains means we sadly can’t hear the cow bells but the full height windows mean we do see a lot of the countryside.

Another change of train, in Interlaken (where we had holidayed 12 years ago) and off to Lucerne along the valley of Lake Brienz to Meiringen (of Sherlock Holmes fame).

Now reversing, we take a different route and climb steeply through the mountains past little villages nestling in the hillside many with fantastically tall church spires before we drop down to arrive in Lucerne right in the middle of “rush hour”.

Everywhere is so green, they have had a “bad” summer with lots of rain we are continually told.

Not exactly sure where hotel is and with two cases, we opt for a taxi to the hotel – expensive as a result of length of time taken in the traffic.

Hotel des Balances

Hotel des Balances

Hotel des Balances ( ) is right on the river (Reuss) front and we are on the top floor with a balcony overlooking the Jesuit church.

Lucerne festival street act outside Jesuit church

Lucerne festival street act outside Jesuit church

We are in the middle of the Lucerne festival with various street acts performing all day and up to 11pm at night.

Very lively atmosphere but sadly, weather not warm enough to sit out – somewhat different to that in Morges. Dinner in adjacent restaurant, good Italian food.

The hotel room does have a TV but nothing in English which actually is quite a nice change and although internet is free, it never manages to stay in our room long enough – something to do with our room being furtherest away from the router I guess.

26 August

Left window open overnight as room hot and weather now hotter – woken by a church bell at 6:45 which was chimed over 200 times!  A call to prayer too far?

Breakfast is almost certainly the best hotel breakfast we have ever had with tea, coffee, meat, fish, eggs, cereal, orange, bread, yoghurts, croissants, champagne and all types of fruit juices.  Yes, you read it right, Champagne!!!

Sadly today is very rainy so only a stroll around town for most of the day.

Shop building painting

Shop building painting

Quirky buildings

Quirky buildings

Lucerne (or Luzern as some spell it) is bustling with character with ancient buildings still in use, lots of painted walls, quirky buildings and of course the two diagonal covered wooden bridges where despite notices banning smoking, people still smoked!

The oldest is the Chapel Bridge built in 1333 but almost totally destroyed in 1993 by a fire.

Restoration has been well done as there hardly looks as though there was any damage.

Chapel Bridge

Chapel Bridge

27 August.

Flic’s wedding date set so phone hotel to book some rooms for family members before breakfast on the terrace in the sun.

Breakfast time

Breakfast time

Breakfast time

Breakfast time

Better weather today so try a boat, rail, cable car and trolley bus circular ride to Rigi mountain.

First class (6SFr more expensive than 2nd class!) in the boat is virtually deserted and 2nd class mobbed with some dyslexic people unable to see the wording of 1st class, ejected by the ticket inspector and forced to stand downstairs with no seats available.

Disembark at Alpnachstad after about an hour’s cruise and cross path to Pilatus cog railway said to be the steepest in the world although they said that about Mount Washington’s cog railway in New Hampshire USA.

Certainly at 48%, bits of it were very steep and it would have been difficult to walk up so all credit to the builders all those years ago.

Pilatus cog railway - just to think we were at lake level about 10 minutes earlier

Pilatus cog railway – just to think we were at lake level about 10 minutes earlier

Meandering up the side of the mountain, the four trains in convoy were all full, something to do with a couple of coaches at the bottom.

Mt Pilatus church.  (High Church!)

Mt Pilatus church. (High Church!)

Lovely views on the way up but in the clouds at the summit station (nearly 7000ft above sea level) so we head for the descent in the cable car down the other side of the mountain exiting through the mist reasonably quickly only to find a church perched  probably 6000ft above sea level between two summits.

Another change, this time into 4 person gondolas and we had stayed at the back of the crowd thus allowing ourselves to get in a gondola all to ourselves which was better for viewing the wonderful passing scenery.

At our destination in the outskirts of Lucerne at Kriens we walk further down and as if by magic, without any waiting, along comes our final mode of transport for the day, an old-fashioned trolley bus with supporting trailer.

Trolley Bus and trailer

Trolley Bus and trailer

Buy a salad from the station’s Coop to eat in our room tonight.

28 August

A better day and we set off on the lake on the paddle steamer this time to Vitznau prior to an ascent up Mt Rigi. This time, the boat is crowded in both 1st and 2nd class, probably because it forms part of the Wilhelm Tell Express to Fluelen where they board a train for Locarno or Lugano, I digress.

Lake Zurich from journey up Mt Rigi

Lake Lucerne from journey up Mt Rigi

At Vitznau, we transfer from boat to rack railway for a packed train with every man and woman for themselves as other tourists were just barging by to get a good seat. We got our own back later!

Lineside house, Mt Rigi

Lineside house, Mt Rigi

Through meadows with the ubiquitous cow horns jingling we rise up past isolated line side cottages with, again, spectacular views of Lake Luzern and the surrounding hills.

Mt Rigi station summit

Mt Rigi station summit

At the summit station, watch hang gliders start their descent before we take our seat on our way down to Rigi Kaltbag and our change for the gondola to Weggis and the boat back.

For some reason, Rigi Kaltbag is very popular with lots of people but not exactly a lot to do so puzzled as to why there would be lots of people here.

Just miss a gondola with next one in 30 minutes time and it already looks as though it will be full but as Swiss tend to think transport, an extra descent is scheduled, so a wait of only 15 minutes but a very crowded gondola.

Chapel Bridge artwork

Chapel Bridge artwork

Short walk downhill at the bottom of the cable car (glad we didn’t do this the other way round) to the boat which is more modern than the one this morning  but still crowded.

Free beer

Free beer

Free beer from a local brewery’s horse-drawn advertising cart was very welcome before a walk over the Chapel Bridge with its restored artwork well in evidence, a view in some of the waterside shops

Does Her Majesty endorse these?

Does Her Majesty endorse these?

(including one showing models of HM the Queen with a waving hand – very naff), and dinner at a nearby restaurant.

A walk in the evening to cross the Spreuerbruke Bridge also known as the Mill Bridge, which also has some fantastic paintings inside although these are original, the Chapel Bridge being restored after the devastating fire in 1993.

29 August

Showers forecast today but tops of mountains appear clear so opt for ride up Mt Stanserhome, travelling this time by rail rather than by boat. As we have half price 1st class travel available, opt to go 1st class on the train, although 2nd class might have been less crowded (14 of the 18 available 1st class seats are occupied, mostly it seems by railway staff).

Open air cable car

Open air cable car

Stans cable railway & very green land

Stans cable railway & very green land

Off the train at Stans and walk back, trackside to the cable railway which is also crowded, this time with a group. The exciting bit however is still to come as we exit the cable railway and await our turn on the double-deck cable car with the top deck open to the sky.

A bit like wing walking perhaps without the aerobatics. Hardly any wind but could imagine it to be interesting if there were.

Lucerne from Mt Stanershom

Lucerne from Mt Stanershome

At top, have our free coffees (courtesy of the 1st class ticket) and a piece of delicious alcoholic chocolate gateaux – only SFr 4.50! it would probably have cost more than £4.50 at home.

We were too full from breakfast and the chocolate gateaux to have lunch in the revolving restaurant which stays open on Friday and Saturday evenings for meals – worth considering next time perhaps – with the last cable car down after 11pm.

Fantastic views from the top in all directions with occasional mist swirling around and in some places, away from the other people, absolute quiet.

Return to Luzern the way we came, buy salad from coop for dinner (much cheaper than a meal out of course!) and a quick rest before Richard goes out with camera for some photos of the wall – big mistake!

Lucerne Tower

Lucerne Tower

One tower seen from below followed by a lightning flash, one huge clap of thunder and the heavens open for a good 20 minutes. Sheltering was not easy and I retraced my steps after the rain had stopped thoroughly soaked but fortunately with a dryish camera.

By now you couldn’t see any mountains from our window, good job we had already bought the salad for dinner as we wouldn’t have stayed dry going out, it poured for most of the rest of the evening, even most of the street entertainers abandoned their performances.

Another casualty of G&S, Janine is treated the same way as I was last year and kicked out with only a few weeks to go before the show.

30 August

Another nice day with breakfast on the terrace albeit the service a bit slow.

Yesterday’s rain was obviously so intense that the local authorities have widened the river’s sluice gates, a not infrequent process by the looks of the infrastructure around the river, to allow more water to exit the lake and make its way to the North Sea at Rotterdam.

It is getting some attention though from a good crowd.

I am guessing that if they didn’t do this, the city would soon be flooded with the build up of water from the lake.

A farmer’s market and 2nd hand stalls area was set up on the banks of the river and seemed to be popular with locals – some of whom were breakfasting on the Terrace at the hotel with their veg and other produce in the bags waiting to go home. What a way to start a day.

Lots of bread, cheese, fruit and veg alongside plants and meat with typical items on sale in the 2nd hand stall area. Some reasonably priced new Brio caught our eye but Harry doesn’t need anymore.

Lucerne railway station arch.  Shame about Euston's doric arch!

Lucerne railway station arch. Shame about Euston’s doric arch!

Make our way across Chapel Bridge to the start of the Road Train town tour which we only just manage to get on, it was pretty full, but does have an English commentary and all for SFr 12.00 each, bargain.

A bit disconcerting to start with as a lot of music played before we get on to the descriptions of buildings and areas but don’t think we missed anything.

Lucerne catholic cathedral behind Swiss house

Lucerne church behind Swiss house

Lucerne's dying lion carving

Lucerne’s dying lion carving

Tour took us to the dying lion and a couple of older buildings in an area we hadn’t been to before so after tour we returned on foot for better photos.

A memorial to an earlier battle covered by a modern building - shame

Stiftung Bourbaki Panorama Luzern

The modern building around the outside of an older circular building (Stiftung Bourbaki Panorama Luzern) is somewhat uncharacteristic for Lucerne – shame.

Probably should have done the tour earlier in the week but weather better for tours up mountains earlier in the week.

Sal picks up a nasty splinter in her foot which requires my medical skills to extract it – the things we do!

Manage to get up to city walls without it raining for views of the towers and city from the towers.

Lucerne clock tower on the wall (The clock is set one minute fast and chimes accordingly!)

Lucerne clock tower on the wall (The clock is set one minute fast and chimes accordingly!)

It is staggering to think when these were built and the equipment they had at the time, and they still stand today.

Wonderfully preserved buildings that it would be difficult for anyone to replicate today.

Even England doesn’t have buildings like this anymore.

5 of the towers from our hotel bathroom window

5 of the towers from our hotel bathroom window

The festival ends in a day’s time but included in the entertainment tonight are a number of shop window models who are dancing in the windows.

Not a lot of attention from the passing public but fun to watch all the same.

Dinner tonight in adjacent Italian, our third visit, and this time manage an outdoor seat as weather warmer.

The last day of the festival and lots of street entertainment on the other side of the river keeping us entertained.

31 August

Still warm enough for breakfast in the balcony but service slow again today – maybe it’s the weekend staff!. Duly filled up with breakfast goodies, make our way to boat terminal for final boat trip, this time to the transport museum on the outskirts of Lucerne.

Old train at transport museum

Old train at transport museum

Martin & Nellie had recommended we go there and their recommendation was spot on, a delightful place housing, rail, road, air and water transport history. Lots of interactive activities for kids of all ages but perhaps the best were:

These are full size vehicles.  you select which one the transporter collects and then a story is told about the vehicle when it is at your ground floor level

These are full size vehicles. you select which one the transporter collects and then a story is told about the vehicle when it is at your ground floor level

1.  The vehicle display where you chose a vehicle (real size) to get down from a display up to 6 shelves high and about 20 long and hear some history about it. Vehicles included ancient ones, a F1 car from 1999, a Lamborghini and a supermarket trolley.

Movement of the transporter to get the vehicles down to ground level was all done automatically once you had selected what you want to see.

Model of a canal lock

Model of a canal lock

2.  A model of the operation of a lock gate showing two container ships moving from one level to another.

3.  A display that can be best described as a cross between a pinball machine and Mousetrap. Kids were enthralled with this as were adults.

Pin ball machine?

Pin ball machine?

4.  An area outside where kids could build roads using real mini diggers, conveyor belts and other tools or sail a reasonably sized dinghy.

Full size yachting pool, children's road digging area

Full size yachting pool, children’s road digging area

I did have a go at an ancient type of hang glider.  It was much harder than I had expected, especially on the leg muscles as your legs needed to be kept together and moved from side to side, I need considerably more practice.

Picture of early double decker train - yes they are all standing up on the top deck.

Picture of early double decker train – yes they are all standing up on the top deck.

Just get on boat for return to Lucerne and hotel before the rains come down.

Air section - early type hang glider

Air section – early type hang glider

A bit soaked on walk back to hotel from wharf but not as bad as the other day.

Dinner in hotel tonight, good food and service – to be recommended although pricey.

Our last full day in Lucerne, sad to go, but, another Swiss City beckons.

1 September

No terrace for breakfast, too overcast, but still the same good breakfast and good service – will be very sad to leave this hotel, especially the breakfast.

Check out and walk to station for train to Zürich which of course is on time as usual, sitting downstairs this time as the countryside flies by.

More undulating than before and on the outside of Zürich, more graffiti.

Taxi to hotel where room is already ready for us even though it is not yet 1pm and, bonus, we get an upgrade. Short rest before setting out to explore the immediate area, check out lake cruise centre and back for a cheap(ish) meal at McDonald’s (SFr 22.90 isn’t cheap for UK standards but cheaper than a local restaurant).

Possibly our first McDonald’s meal for about 10 years. We have British TV so get a bit up to date with a couple of programmes but still two single quilts on a double bed.

2 September

Lake Zurich lakeside properties

Lake Zurich lakeside properties

Off on a lake cruise to Rapperswill, passing from one side of the lake to the other with some great lakeside properties on view.



Rapperswill is a lovely little village with a clock on the church tower, some narrow streets, quirky shops and a fantastic patisserie with two large cakes for just under Sfr10.

Catch train back to Zürich and try to find shopping street back towards hotel but get lost so head back to Zürich station for train back to hotel.



A lovely Skype with Sarah, Ali and Harry although Harry won’t sit still for long of course. He is growing up fast.

Dinner in hotel’s restaurant, quirky as it is over the road from the hotel, using the supplied (by the hotel) discount voucher and good food although even with the discount voucher the meal was expensive by UK standards.


3 September

M’aitre d’ talks to us at breakfast and provides a better map of Zürich with a suggested route for walking so tackle this after breakfast.

Risque statues

Risque statues

Some great old buildings in side streets, lots of cafés, a few statues – some more risque than others – and lots of students.

Zurich architecture

Zürich architecture

Up to station to a bite to eat and hen back on the other side of the river to hotel. Great leisurely walk that takes up a good few hours.

Dinner tonight at a very lively Italian restaurant and for what we paid at the hotel the previous night we had a 50cl bottle of wine instead of fizzy water and a desert.

Santa Lucia Corsa Restaurant, Theaterstrasse 10 Zürich 8001 did well.


4 September

Our last day in Switzerland and a leisurely walk to the station to meet up with Marlies who was coming to Zürich anyway to meet friends but did bring my misplaced sunglasses – thank you.

A very pleasant hour over lunch followed by a tram ride back to hotel, collect bags and train from local station to Airport.

Train at Zurich Stadelhofen

Train at Zürich Stadelhofen

All flights on time and we are indoors just before 10pm – 5 hours from setting off at Zürich airport.

Another adventure over, no new countries visited but more of Switzerland visited and still more to see next time we come back.

12 September

As a postscript to this we, just by chance, shared a carriage on an Isle of Man Steam Train back to Douglas from Port Erin with a couple from Lucerne whose family  just happen to own a baker’s shop in Lucerne where we had bought lunch some 10 days earlier and who live in Weggis.

They were on a cruise on MS Bremen from Reykjavik to Lisbon and “doing their own thing” on the island – fortunately on a beautifully sunny day. Small world.