Switzerland 05-06: Rigi

After failing to get here on Saturday, I was determined to make it up this mountain.
If I’d been doing exams, I wouldn’t have been able to leave so early, not that I can remember what time I did go. Probably pretty early, as it takes over an hour to get to Neuchatel from Les Verrieres.
I got the train to Olten, changed to the Luzern-Milan train and stayed on there all the way to Arth-Goldau, which I was pleased to realise was in Schwyz canton – another one ticked off on my list.
There are two ways to the top of Rigi, both rack railways. There’s one up from Vitznau and one from Arth-Goldau and as Vitznau didn’t look too easy to get too, I took the obvious route.
The platform for Rigi was at the end of one of the main platforms and up some stairs. I bought my ticket in English, because I have no idea how to do it in German, although I don’t like using English abroad.
At first I thought I was going to go up in an open wooden carriage but that train didn’t seem to be running and we were herded onto an ordinary one.

You could see exactly where you were going because the summit was to our right and we were going to go round in a sort of U shape to get up there.
It’s not the highest mountain I’ve ever been up but you could feel the mountain coldness in the air and while I was on the train, I was very glad I’d brought my coat.
It took around half an hour to get to the top. At the station below the top, the line from Vitznau came in, on red trains. The Arth-Goldau ones are blue.

The view from the top was incredible. There were patches of light mist, but you could see for miles. I could see the Oberland giants and billions of peaks to the south-west behind Lake Luzern.
And Peedee’s amazing zoom:

Behind Lake Zug on the other side was flat land for miles.

I sat on the grass for a while and looked out at the view. There was only one problem. Peedee’s guidebook said there is snow on the peak even in summer. Of course there wasn’t and it was far too hot for a fleece jumper and a long coat. Ick.
Then I walked down behind the little chapel into a field, for lack of a better word, with a fence around the edge. A sort of bump-shaped field. And when I looked over the fence:

A 1000 metre sheer drop.
I guess I knew there was a drop like that somewhere because you can see from the ground that Rigi looks like someone sliced the end off with a sharp knife but it’s quite scary when you’re looking straight down it.
Then I couldn’t find a seat on the train on the way down so I stood behind the driver and looked out of the front.

And also thought that if he was to die right there and then, I could probably drive the train down to the bottom…

Switzerland 05-06: Kandersteg

I’d been planning to go to Rigi or Titlis today, but when Peedee came in at about 6.30 to say she and Jemma weren’t coming, it was pouring down with rain and a mountaintop didn’t seem like such a good idea.
I did the orthographe exam, once we managed to get into Neuchatel and then decided from the Swiss map at the station that Kandersteg might be a good idea as I’d never been there.
Train to Bern, train to Spiez, train to Kandersteg. Easy.
It wasn’t quite as I expected. Of course, it was a misty gloomy day and I know people come here to ski rather than to spend time in the village, but everything seemed a bit dead.
The mountains around were very pretty, but I couldn’t see a lot of them because of the mist.
There were lots of rivers coming through the town and on the sides of mountains, a lot of Swiss flags.

I took Peedee’s camera with me and I’ve always known it’s a better one than mine, but I’d never fallen in love with it. The zoom is incredible. It can get in closer than I can actually see. I can use the thing as a telescope!
See flag?

See flag?
I did a circuit of the village, turning left, past the bottom of the Oechinsee chairlift, back down to the turning, along the main road, then back across the fields towards the railway. I wondered why there were so many trains full of lorries, and then I saw a couple of camper vans which were obviously being used. Dead or being-delivered ones do not usually have bikes attached to the back. Finally I figured it out. It’s the Lötschberg rail tunnel, the only way to get onto the main east-west road across Valais.
As I was wandering along the track back to the station, the clouds parted above me and the horn of whichever mountain it was appeared like Mount Olympus.
I got back on the train and intended to get off at Frutigen, since I’d be back pretty early otherwise. But I didn’t bother. And I didn’t stop at Spiez or Bern either. I’ve seen them both.

Switzerland 05-06: Pilatus Golden Round Trip

I didn’t exactly plan to go to Pilatus. I wanted something to do and was running out of ideas when I came across Luzern by accident in the guidebook. But I didn’t really want to go there – I’ve already been. Then I spotted the two mountains either side of the city, Rigi and Pilatus. I don’t remember how I chose Pilatus but possibly it was because there are two different routes up it, whereas the two routes up Rigi are both rack railways.
Next thing to decide was which route to take. Do I go to Alpnachstad and take the steepest cogwheel railway in the world or do I go to Kriens and take the gondola and cable car up? Obviously, the best way would be to go up one way and down the other. Would I have to buy two one way tickets or was there some way I could get a round trip ticket? Yes, there was. It’s called the Golden Round Trip.
After searching the labyrinth that is Luzern Bahnhof, I decided I would have to buy one from the tourist office, so I queued for half an hour and finally discovered why it’s so slow. I asked the woman for a ticket for the Golden Round Trip and she started getting out maps and showing me exactly what it involved and what fun things you could do on the way and how to get there and all the stuff I already knew from the guidebook. All I wanted was the ticket!
The first stage was Bus 1 from Perron 1 at Luzern Bahnhof towards Kriens, getting off at Linde-Pilatus. It was a trolley bus and I sat in the little cart attached to the back and it was hot. It was really really hot. The stops were announced, all in German until we got to “Nächster halt, Linde-Pilatus. Next stop, Mount Pilatus.” I had been sitting next to a German woman with two young boys on the train between Olten and Luzern and I’d heard one of the boys talking about that. I’d heard him say those very words but I’d assumed for some reason that was an announcement on the cable car or railway when you were just about to get to the top. It had baffled me because I was pretty sure that “Linde” was not German for mountain. Now it all made sense although why the boy said it, I have no idea.
I had to walk up through the village of Kriens to the gondola station. It was packed, everyone queueing at the front to buy tickets. Well, I already had my ticket. I made my way through the crowds towards the gate. Here I found a problem. My ticket was a pink and blue square of paper, which doesn’t fit in the gondola gate ticket slots. I handed it to the man hanging around there and he went into his little box and swapped it for a proper gondola card. I got in my red gondola and started my journey upwards.
The gondola stage was two parts, but you didn’t have to change. I went up above the city, up above the trees and I could see right across Luzern on the edge of the lake. Up over a huge green meadow, through the middle station and on again. I had to get out at Fräkmüntegg. This was a tempting place to stay. Right outside the station was a high-wires park, like Go Ape. Except here the lanyards weren’t slings like at Go Ape, they were rope and the people on the wires wore helmets and gloves. I watched someone go down the zip line and they were holding onto the wire as they slid down it. That was when I noticed the gloves and noticed that everyone was wearing them. It looked fun. And then, 100m down the hill, there was Switzlerland’s longest rodelbahn and that was tempting as well. But the last train I could get down with a boat connection was 3.55 so I didn’t have time to hang around on wires or rodels.
I got the cable car up. It’s about halfway, walking distance, but whereas the gondolas take half an hour, the cable car only takes five minutes and is a lot steeper and goes over some scary stuff. This was a new experience for me – I had the cable car completely to myself, except the driver. I was the only passenger. My own personal cable car. The driver opened the door and said something in German. I didn’t have a clue what, so he said “You speak?” and I said I speak English – and French. So he talked to me in French all the way up. Where am I from, what am I doing in Switzerland, what am I studying, where am I studying? Where in England am I from? London? No. Near the sea? Just a little bit, and then we were at the top.

At the top – Pilatus Kulm – is a hotel, a conference room, a round restaurant, a sun terrace and several pointy peaks.

There are five walking routes, mostly pretty short. I did most of them. The first one was the blue route, mostly because it went through the rocks, into what they call a rock gallery. Through the rock and around the rock and that bit is the same as the green route. Then the green route goes through a kind of artificial cave which the hotel uses as storage and you reemerge just above the hotel. I went through there, discovered it led me straight back down again and went back to my route. Up the stairs – a lot of them, around the mountain and then up some more stairs through the rock and I emerged at Chriesiloch, which seems to be a ledge below a weather station. I walked back down the other end of the path along the front of the mountain towards the hotel and discovered that that route was supposed to take half an hour. Even with all the photos I took of the mist coming through the gallery windows, it didn’t take that long, I’m sure.

Next I took the red route, because it came off the side of the blue one. That went up a few steps, a couple of little bends and emerged at Oberhaupt, which was a little viewing platform at the top. Then I went down and took the pink route which was at the other side of the hotel and went up to another pyramid of rock with great views. Before I did that though, I watched the people jumping off the mountain and soaring around right over our heads.

Then I climbed up to Esel.
It was a steep path up to a peak and if it wasn’t so misty, I could have seen for miles. The mist came and went. There were clear patches which moved around. I could see over the entire starfish-shape lake, I could see exactly where I’d come up and if it was clear, I could have seen all the way to the Oberland.

Then I came down and wandered around the terrace and eventually got the train down.
It was the way down, but it was nowhere near the last bit of the day. I was near the front of the queue to get through the gate because I was there fairly early, then I got near the chain at the top where everyone gathered next. Then when it was opened, I discovered that the best way to get to the front was just to skip down the stairs and overtake everyone that way because everyone else was just plodding down the stairs. So I was first onto the train and got to choose the best seat. There are in fact, about nine small trains which run as a sort of pack. My one was the first. Each one has four levels and there are eight seats in each level, four facing in each direction. I sat facing forwards, then realised as soon as people sat in front of me, my view was going to disappear, so I sat facing backwards, where I could turn around and look out the front. I could also watch the driver.

We started going downwards and within two minutes, the driver was talking to me. At first I thought maybe he was objecting to me hanging over the back of my seat but I could hear the word “Steinbock” so I looked where he was pointing and realised. He was showing me that there were wild Alpensteinbock on the slopes beside us, three of them, a more brownish colour than I’ve seen them before.

It’s the steepest cogwheel railway in the world, as they tell you in the office, on all the leaflets, in the guidebook and on the side of the train. At one point, just below the first set of tunnels, it gets to 48%. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I know that it’s pretty steep and I read in the leaflet that the way it works is “the brilliantly innovative construction of two horizontally revolving cogwheels”. The railway has been going since 1889 and was steam-powered until 1937.

We went down through fields and rock faces and tunnels and then came to a kind of middle station at Amsigen where there was a little bridge over the railway and cows walking across it into a barn. That was great. But then we stopped and the driver got out and when I looked out the front, I discovered that we’d run out of track:

We sat there for five or ten minutes and while we were waiting, three more little trains came trundling up. That was why we’d run out of track, it was waiting for them. The driver got back in and the entire section slid across to we could go on. The woman sitting next to me made a sort of “Oooohh” noise and the driver laughed. We made the rest of the way down and arrived in Alpnachstad after about forty minutes.
Next, I had to go under a pretty big road and get to the paddle steamer, the last part of my journey.
Inside it, the engine was open with railings around it so men could stand and look at it and it was hot. A big red and silver steam engine.
And on either side of it were windows so you could watch the paddles going round and round.

It was a ninety minute trip across three arms of the lake. I never got my ticket checked because I never stayed still long enough. Everyone else seemed to find somewhere to sit and stayed put. I don’t believe in that. I wandered around, the front, the back, the inside. I couldn’t get upstairs though, because it was first class only. There was one particular place on the boat where you could get misted from the paddles but a man in a yellow t-shirt stood there most of the time. At the back was a huge Swiss flag, really huge and at the front on the side, there was a lot of gold decoration. I took my shoes off and wandered around barefoot. We made five stops on the way and every time we picked up more passengers, the men would spend the first ten minutes standing looking at the engine.

As we got closer to Luzern, I could hear a lot of noise and music, although it was hard to tell over the noise of the boat.

As we arrived at the quay, there seemed to be a lot of bands on boats and I remembered that I’d been quite impressed to see a band on an escalator in the station earlier. On the quay, there was a huge stage over pools of water and a set of seats opposite and a lot of people in uniforms. It appeared I’d wandered into some huge battle of the bands. They all had their own uniform, various coloured and patterned waistcoats, white shirts, black trousers, some with coloured shirts or trousers, some with stripes down their legs, some with jackets, some with ties, some with hats, some with a combination of things. A big band on the stage was doing sound checks, which seemed to involve starting to play something and then trailing off twenty seconds later. Finally it dawned on me to read what was written on the back of the stage in huge black and white letters in four languages. What I’d walked into the was Swiss Federal Festival of Music, which takes place over two weekends.

I sat down on the wooden walkway next to the stage, as I didn’t dare go up to the seats and listened to Stadtmusik Zürich, which seemed to be some kind of non-military military band. Then it started to rain, so I wandered around the back of the seats to the other side which was under the cover of the KKL, the Culture and Congress Centre of Luzern. I wandered a lot. I went back out into the rain, since it wasn’t raining that much, and then back under cover again because it was. I went inside the KKL where there were various music stands, Yamaha, something beginning with B, the Tuba Centre of Switzerland and instrument repair. They all had shiny instruments out and I had a look at them. Clarinets with extra keys and gold keys and flutes in various sizes with different numbers of holes in the bottom section. There was even a bass flute. The people beginning with B had a weird saxophone with a matt finish which made it look kind of antique, as well as a shiny silver soprano sax. I got a couple of pens and pencils from Yamaha and then went back outside. Stadtmusik Zürich had finished and Basorchester SBB were coming on. I watched them for a while too, but then it started to get thundery and there was lightning too. I decided being out in the rain, under a huge stage made of scaffolding and standing in the lake probably wasn’t the best place to be in a thunderstorm and I’d just discovered a sign up next to the stage. It appeared there was music going on in about eight places throughout the city and one of them was the station. At eight, “Houmpa Something” was playing in there, which was in about three minutes. I deserted the stage and went to the station, which was right next door. I went out from under the cover of the KKL and walked about ten seconds in the rain to the escalator down to the lower levels of the station.
There were lines of tables set up underneath the station and lots and lots of people sitting at them in front of a smaller stage. I went upstairs to find out when and where my train was and watched the band from the railings up above. From there I could see them, I could see the bands in their purple and green waistcoats and yellow and white and blue shirts, the women dancing on the tables and the woman who knocked her drink over.
It was a little brass band of six people and they were great. Everyone was clapping along with them and the people who actually knew what they were playing were singing and it was a lot of fun.

But then I had to leave and get my train.
It was a train from Luzern to Olten and it was packed, then I had ten minutes to change at Olten for the SBB from St Gallen heading for Lausanne. In the last four weeks, I’ve taken that train three times, in both directions. It was 10.34 before I got back to Neuchatel and my camera batteries were so dead, I would have to charge them overnight before I get at my photos.

Switzerland 06-05: Appenzell/St Gallen

I went to the station last night to check train times and planned to get the 9.24 to St Gallen, which I did. I was quite early because I wanted to get food before I went and I managed to spot the TGV heading for Paris, so while I was waiting, I sat on platform 2 and watched it go, before I got my train from platform 5.
Just under two hours later I was waiting in Zurich Hauptbahnhof and another hour later, I was at St Gallen. Last time I was here, on my way to Bregenz, it was freezing cold and all I wanted to do was get on the next train out of there, but this time it wasn’t just not freezing, it was actually hot. I went into the kiosk at the far end of the station, wandered out, went to the other end of the station, bought my ticket and got on the Appenzell train. I opened my bag and realised that something was missing. My jumper. I looked over at the ticket machine. It wasn’t there, and the last place I remembered having it was when I put it down in the kiosk. I leapt off that train and ran back to the shop, where I had to try to make a poor German-speaking girl understand that I had left my jumper there and had she seen it, when her English wasn’t very good and my German non-existant. But she understood and yes, they had found it. I reclaimed it, tied it around me and went back to platform thirteen very slowly, because my train had already left, within seconds of my jumping off it. I looked at the timetables, realised that the ones inside were accurate whereas the one outside was out of date and about fifteen minutes wrong, then wandered back and got on the next train.
It was fun. It was a little red train which made its way up out of St Gallen and then across green fields and hills, past chalets and along the edge of the road down into Appenzell.

It was as picture-perfect as I’d imagined. There wasn’t a lot there, just a very pretty village with some mountains in the background and some shops which sold anything vaguely Alpine that you could imagine, so I wandered around for a while, then went back to St Gallen on a little red train.

I looked at the town map and found the cathedral. It seemed no buses went anywhere near it. I decided where I wanted to go, and began to walk. At one point I caught a glimpse of a tower and so I followed that. I found myself wandering through the pedestrian shopping streets, all decorated buildings and winding roads and then out the other side, into nothing. I looked around. I looked up. I looked around the bend in the road. The guidebooks said that the twin towers of the cathedral were visible from practically anywhere in the city, so how could the thing be hiding from me?
I have no idea how I managed to find it, but I did. There was a handy map, so I could see how to get into the various buildings. I went into the cathedral. It was large and white, with gold and mint-green decorations and a painted ceiling. I took photos, as did everyone else in there. It was strange, I don’t think I’ve ever been in such a bright cathedral. Usually, they’re a bit darker and bare stone, not painted gleaming white. It was very pretty though.

I went through the cathedral and out the other side, supposedly into the enclosed Klosterhof, although I’m not sure I managed that. But I did manage to find the Stiftsbibliotek, which was the reason I went there in the first place. I went into the library and after taking a wrong turning by following a woman showing people to the Musiksalle, I found the library hidden away upstairs with a very odd view over the abbey courtyard which nowadays is a basketball/football pitch.

I went to the door and peered inside, wondering where all the slippers were, as they were supposed to be right in front of the door. Then I spotted them. They were hiding away behind me and I’d walked straight past them. I put a pair on and went in under the ψYXHΣ IATPEION sign. The slippers were far too big and I could hardly walk in them, so I went back out and put on another pair. Of course, they were all the same size – enormous. I went back in and had a proper look.
No photos are allowed inside, presumably so they can sell postcards to every single person who goes in. It’s an incredible sight though. I’ve seen a picture of it before and because of the angle of the photo and the paintings on the ceiling, it made it look very cave-like. In actual fact, it’s about a quarter of the size I thought it would be and everything is shiny brown wood, like walnut. The books are enormous and very old and it’s just spectacular. I went back out and bought some postcards and as I did, I spotted a notice on the counter about adult and child prices and year long tickets and it dawned on me that maybe you were supposed to pay to go in. I went outside and sat on the grass in front of the cathedral as so many people were doing and looked in the guide book. Yes, I was supposed to have paid CHF7 to go in there. Never mind. I lay on my back and took photos of the cathedral from below. It was the first time I’ve ever gone on a day trip and just sat on the grass and done nothing. Of course, I got bored with that fairly quickly, so I walked back towards the station and took photos of some of the bears along the way.

I got on my train and sat on there for the two and a half hour journey back to Neuchatel, no changes, and took photos of myself all the way back.

Switzerland 05-06: Adelboden/Our Chalet

It didn’t dawn on me until about January that as a Guide, I had another home in Switzerland, Our Chalet, and that I could and should go and visit it. I found out how but for some reason, I kept putting it off. Then I had a free day today and decided that it was the perfect place to go, not too far but somewhere that would be interesting.
I had the foresight to get exact directions from the internet, but once I got there, via two trains and a bus, it wasn’t difficult to find the place. Cross the road towards the petrol station, turn left and keep walking uphill for half an hour.

The office doesn’t open until 2, so I was planning to sit outside for 20 minutes. I’d just hiked up a hill and I wanted to take a few photos of the spectacular scenery, then I’d go in at 2. Long before that, I heard voices and a crowd of about eight little American girls came along, singing very loudly, very enthusiastically and in tune, then came their three leaders. One of them sounded American, one sounded foreign and I didn’t hear the third one. They were leaving after just two nights, which surprised me, because it seemed a long way to come for two nights.
Someone from Our Chalet came out to say goodbye to them, then all the girls had to go to the bathroom before they left, so one of the leaders came over to me. She was delighted to find that I was not only a Guide, but a Young Leader and they gave me some presents, a wool and felt necklace which I wore as a bracelet and a patch which declared them to be USA Guides Overseas from Basel, which explained both the Americanism and the foreignism. The leader, Suzanna, asked if I had anywhere to put patches and wanted to hear every detail of my camp blanket. You have a camp blanket? What does it look like? What’s it made of? Do you use it inside the sleeping bag? Her children have got blankets made from old Guide t-shirts. The sleeves wear out so she cuts them off and sews them into a blanket, then the patches go on the seams, which seems a bit weird to me, but mine apparently seemed just as weird to her.
After they left, the woman from Our Chalet, Sol, took me inside and handed me over to Annie, a volunteer from Wisconsin. She showed me around the place.

It was once one chalet, set up by a woman called Helen Storrow, but now it’s seven chalets. The original chalet was the one I spent longest in. There’s a new big one, built in 1999 because the original was getting too small for all the guests and the offices. There’s a tiny little one which belonged to Helen Storrow, called the Baby Chalet. Apparently, they put the furniture in and then built the roof over it and Annie said that if you look inside it, there’s no way you could get the furniture out again. There’s a living chalet for the staff, which can take nine, but looks like it should be able to manage a lot more. There’s the shop chalet, which has very obviously been extended – half of it’s dark wood, the other half is very light. Then there are two smaller chalets which can take a few people as well, the Squirrelhouse and the Camp House and there’s tents too.

When the Chalet was first opened in 1932, a few people had a tea party in the Baby Chalet, including Lord and Lady Baden-Powell, Helen Storrow and the woman who introduced Scouting to America. Their tea set is kept in a cabinet in the new chalet. It has the trefoil on it and each cup has the initials of one of the people there on it.
After Annie had showed me around, I was allowed to just wander around wherever I wanted. “After all, it’s Our Chalet” I went to the T Bar first, which is a room that’s supposedly soundproof although Annie doesn’t know how true that really is. It’s a small living room with TV and stereo and chairs and tables for playing games and talking and relaxing.

Then I went upstairs and had a look at the Golden Book. It’s actually a copy of the real Golden Book, which is very old and very precious and is kept in the archive. It’s brought out for special occasions and written in and the pages are copied into this version.

There’s also an internet corner here. Then there’s the dining room, which was all set out and ready, with its Trefoil plates and cups and bowls too, although they weren’t out.

I went into the Great Britain room, which is the library. There’s lots and lots of books here, mostly English stories. There is also the Guestbook which I sat down and looked all the way through. This particular one goes back to August 2003. I found a Guide pack from West Moors, and also the group I met who were leaving. As soon as each book is filled, it’s put in the archive.

In the corner of the Great Britain room is the swap corner. There are a few baskets and they’re full of badges, stickers and email addresses that people leave. It’s the most cluttered room in the place. It seems that anything people leave for the Chalet is put in here. Above it all is one of those Swiss ovens like they have in the Institute. One side is in the Great Britain room and the other is in the kitchen and it’s part of the initiation ritual of the staff to squeeze through it. I’ve been through tighter things, but it’s awkwardly high off the ground.

Then I went into the America room which is next door and is so-called because a Guide group from America furnished it. It’s full of furniture which Annie described at “antique in the 30s, so very old.” She doesn’t go in there much because she’s scared of breaking things. In the corner is a bookshelf filled with Guide things from around the world, including a miniature version of the stone at the original camp on Brownsea Island.

Back in the dining room, there’s various things around the walls, including the most intricate scissor cut from the local bus company. It’s incredible, so much detail. I’d never be able to draw it all, let alone cut it all out. The guestbook is full of smaller scale scissor cuts.
In the new building, there’s a conference room, a ski cellar, a collection of Guide badges old and new from around the world and a bomb shelter. It’s Swiss law that all public buildings must have one. It’s the first time I’ve come across that one. They use it as the archive at the moment but they’re supposed to be able to clear it out in 20 minutes. 18 people can shelter there for 18 days apparently.

I think when I’ve finished my fourth year, I’m going to come back to Switzerland and volunteer at Our Chalet.

Switzerland 05-06: Bregenz

I meant to spend the day around Lake Constance, mostly in St Gallen and Appenzell with a tiny detour over the border to Bregenz. But as I didn’t get there until 3 in the afternoon, it turned into a day in Bregenz via St Gallen.
I left Neuchatel on the 9.24 train and got to St Gallen around midday. I had read in Peedee’s guidebook that St Gallen was the main transport hub for the north-east with regular trains to Bregenz, Konstanz and all around. I looked on the machines, the timetables and the departure boards. Not a single train to Austria.
So I sat and looked at the little map. Rorschach looked a likely place to get to Bregenz from. I got on a train, one of the little colourful Thurbo ones which I’ve wanted to try ever since I first saw them, although I have no idea where that was. I was expecting it to go more or less straight to Rorschach, but it didn’t. We stopped at about four stations, then “Rorschach Stadt” was announced. I was suspicious, because none of the signs or my map mentioned the word Stadt, but I didn’t know what the next stop would be, maybe it would be beyond Rorschach and I should get off the train. So I did.
Rorschach Stadt was a bench and a pavement between a single track and a hedge. I’d got off in completely the wrong place. The next train to Rorschach Hauptbahnhof wouldn’t be for nearly another hour. I looked at the town map and decided I could probably walk to Rorschach HB if I followed the tracks. I looked at a nearby bus stop, but the buses didn’t seem to go anywhere near the main station. I went down the road, turning towards what looked like civilisation any time I could and within about five minutes, I spotted a station. I was there already?

When I got closer, I discovered it wasn’t Rorschach Hauptbahnhof, but Rorschach Hafen. Rorschach Half-station? No, that didn’t make sense. Then I remembered seeing the word in my guidebook. Rorschach Harbour, the more central station. And right on the other side of the tracks was the harbour. I got another ticket and got the 1.16 train about 300 yards to the main station.

No international trains from here either. I looked at yet another map, decided where I had to go next and bought another ticket. Off I went on my fourth train on the day to St Margrethen.

From there, I found I could get to Bregenz. The trouble was that I couldn’t work the ticket machine. I could order the ticket, but nothing happened when I put the card in and while the screen was in English, the card machine part was in German. It did accept coins, but only Euros and I couldn’t find anywhere to get any of them. So I went inside and bought a ticket from the desk.
I decided as I was in Switzerland, I would try French, seeing as it’s the only one of the official languages that I speak.
“Parlez-vous francais?”
The man looked doubtful.
“Un petit peu. Eengleesh?”
So I bought my ticket in English. When I handed over the card, he looked at it and then said “Your mother language is English?”
“Lucky for me, because my French is not very good,” he said.

I still had 45 minutes or so to wait for the train, so I sat in one of the waiting pods and with the help of about four timetables, worked out what was the absolute latest I could leave Bregenz if I wanted to get back to Neuchatel.

Twenty minutes before the train left, officials started arriving. Two of them at first, with guns and radios and magnifying glasses. A train came in from Munich and they checked everyone’s passports as they got off. Then another one appeared and what I took to be a soldier, but who turned out to be a military policeman. All four of them had guns and magnifying glasses and radios and belt and straps everywhere and tough boots. It was quite scary, standing on my own on a platform in the middle of nowhere, speaking no German and surrounded by armed customs officials.

The train arrived and I got on without having to show my passport. It was full, having come from Zurich on its way to Munich, so I sat on the floor at the end of one of the compartments, with all the luggage. A fat conductor came down and checked my ticket, then the customs men came down with a boy who didn’t look old enough to even buy the bottle of alcohol he was closing. Then the other two arrived and they all began to go through cases, occasionally turning around to ask the boy questions. Whatever they were looking for, they didn’t find it and they hung around at that end of the carriage until we arrived in Bregenz 15 minutes later. They didn’t check my passport there either.
I went up through the town, took out a few Euros and went hunting for three essential things.

The first I found in a bakery just up the road: eight semmels which I bought in German and which were fresh and hot.
The second I found outside a small shop further up the road: some postcards.
The third I found in a Spar: glacier sweets, which I’ve been looking for ever since I got here, but which I can only get in Austria. Also a bar of Milka.
I went down by the lake and sat on a damp bench to make semmels with butter and marmite, having packed everything I needed for that. It started to rain, but I stayed there until I’d eaten two of them. Then I wandered along the lakefront.
There was a kind of craft fair there and I stopped at the first stall as I spotted panpipes. I can’t remember how long I’ve wanted some, but something in Neuchatel made me want to get some and teach myself to play them. There were some miniature ones, so I bought them. The man there was fascinated by me and we talked in a mixture of French and English, then, just before I left, he said he had a present for me. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but it’s a symbol of luck. It looks like a seed, half bright red and half black.
I carried on along the front and soon came to a building site. It appeared you could still walk along the lake front, sort of through the middle of it, so I did. There was a bright red industrial looking something and as I got closer, it appeared that there were huge rows of either stairs or seats by it. It seemed to be seats.
Soon I emerged between the seats, as if I’d walked into some open air theatre. But what it was all overlooking was the huge red industrial something. Now I was seeing it from the front, I could see barrels floating in the lake. Floating barrels are never a good sign.
But when I saw the huge red industrial something I was horrified.

The front was piled up with barrels, which were all leaking some sort of black and luminous yellow gunk. It looked like someone had been dumping toxic waste there for decades. I immediately decided I was never so much as setting foot in that lake. This is Switzerland, where they dump that sort of stuff in their lakes?
There were a lot of people looking at it and panels on the floor which seemed to be explaining it. It was in German so I had no hope of reading it. Then I came across a panel which showed people crossing small bridges and climbing up on the gunk and I began to wonder.

Finally it dawned on me. Maybe this had been something huge and industrial once, but it was now a giant floating stage set and that toxic gunk was painted on. It was the set for Der Trubadour and I was relieved to find a painted but unused section of barrel and gunk on the other side.

Getting back to the station was hard. I walked through a spa, through woods, car parks, tennis courts and finally spotted it across a car park.
By then, my back ached from all the stuff in my bag and my feet hurt, my jeans were soaked almost up to my knees because of the rain and I couldn’t figure out how to get to the station side of the tracks.
They had built some sort of bizarre tower up to the overhead walkways. Up the middle of it was stairs and curling around were ramps, which must have been about three times the distance. I found my train and waited on the platform.

German train announcements are different from Swiss German ones. “Achtung, achtung,” is at the beginning and it’s not “gleis”, it’s “Bahnsteig”, I think.
The train back was a regional one which stopped at every field on the way back to St Margrethen instead of going direct. I didn’t get my passport checked at all on the way back either. I might as well not have taken the thing.

I had ten minutes to wait at St Margrethen but this time, I skipped the whole Rorschach fiasco by getting a direct train back to St Gallen.
According to my calculations, I could afford just over two hours in St Gallen, go to visit the cathedral and the library and then get the last train back to Neuchatel. But I was tired and besides, I didn’t have time to do Appenzell, so I’d have to come back anyway. So I waited around the main square, visited the narrow gauge station out to Appenzell and Trogen and bought postcards, which was when I made an interesting discovery. At the balloon festival, I’d seen a balloon in the shape of a church. It turned out to be St Gallen Cathedral and there were postcards of it.

I got the 6.48 train back via Gossau, Wil SG, Winterthur, Zurich Flughafen, Zurich Hauptbahnhof, Aarau, Olten, Solothurn, Biel/Bienn and finally, Neuchatel. Two and a half hours direct and got back at 9.34. It was a long day.

Switzerland 05-06: Schaffhausen/Rheinfalls

This was one of those trips that had been on my list for a while and was just waiting for a good day to do it. Today seemed like a good day. So I got my train direct to Winterthur and wandered around there for half an hour before getting the train on to Schaffhausen. Winterthur was another place I wanted to see, and it was very nice and very pretty but it seems its main attraction is art museums, so I think I saw everything else.
The first thing I wanted to do in Schaffhausen was to see the Rheinfalls. I knew which bus I had to get and in which direction but I have never been able to work bus ticket machines in German and that’s even harder when there are no machines and you have to buy them from the driver.

I asked if he spoke French, he apparently didn’t and he sold me a ticket in a mixture of mimes and pointing. “Rheinfalls?” “Si,” I replied, forgetting French, English and German and reverting to Spanish.
He was a lovely driver. When we got to Neuhausen, a lot of tourists got off the bus and stood around outside Migros looking lost. He immediately got off the bus and even though he was speaking German, I understood that to get to the falls, we had to follow the yellow footprints on the pavement.

There isn’t all that much I can say about the falls, apart from put in a load of pictures. The water falls a grand distance of…. 23 metres, so i assume, when the guidebook says they’re the highest in Europe, that they’re the ones at the highest altitude, which surprises me a bit. They’re very vicious though. Still photos really can’t do justice to this bubbling, foaming, splashing water, so much of it!
I walked across to the other side of the big pool, where there was the usual sort of tourist stuff, restaurants, souvenir shops, benches, and sat down on a bench to eat my bread and butter and enjoy the view:
Then I went on to Schloss Wörth, which turns out not to be a castle these days, but another restaurant and the launch point for the boats that take the brave people right to the middle of the waterfalls.

Look at that big lumps of rock in the middle:
There are people on top of it. And underneath both those lumps of rock are massive leaping waves which are undercutting the platforms in a very scary way. The rock will still be ok for a few years, but those boats look scary. They bob up and down as if there’s a sea monster underneath and they go right into the big waves. I would have liked to go on them and I would have done, but they look scary.

Then I decided it was time to go back to Schaffhausen. I walked back up to the main street, following the footprints back, only to find, when the bus arrived, it was the same bus and the same man. I’d checked my guidebook and knew what to say, although pronouncing it would be harder, but when I got on the bus, he recognised me and smiled and I just said “Bahnhof” which was easy enough.

Schaffhausen is very pretty. It looks old and it looks all nicely decorated and the shops are quite well hidden. Not in all cases, but quite often. There were a lot of people there, but it didn’t have the same tourist feel as somewhere like Zurich or Lausanne.
And finally:

Because no trip is complete without the river photo.

Switzerland 05-06: Spiez

This may have been a mistake. I left after labo and got a train to Bern at just after 4pm. I stopped off in Thun on the way to get some slightly less cloudy photos and was on my way by 6. But there were problems with the railway and I had to get a bus. A packed bus, all the way to Spiez. There are a lot of people in Thun. It seems like such a pretty, quiet place, but this is rush hour:
This was my first view of Spiez itself:
It’s another place that is just so beautiful. I think Lake Thun and around is my favourite place in this entire country. There’s that lake, surrounded by mountains, and over it all, the three giants.

I walked down to the old town, through some pretty streets:
Near the bottom of the hill, I found a swimming pool and it just looked like the most incredible setting for a pool. I was desperate to swim in it, but I couldn’t.
At the bottom was a small harbour, with lots of boats and the church overlooking the lot.
I spent most of my short time in Spiez taking photos of the mountains and the lake:

And of the zebra crossing going the wrong way.

By now, the sun was getting lower, so I headed back, completely unaware…
I got my bus back to Thun. No problem. I got the train from Thun to Bern. No problem.
I arrived in Bern at 8.55. The next train back to Neuchatel was 9.39. Instead of hanging around for three quarters of an hour, I wondered about getting a train via Biel. I didn’t. Probably I should have done.
I went to Macdonalds and got some fries. That was a good way to kill some time, then I went back to platform 13.
According to all the signs on the platform, that train was going to Neuchatel. But once I got inside, it only mentioned Bumpliz Nord, Gummenen and Kerzers. I was worried, but I thought “In an hour’s time, I’ll know one way or the other”.
This is how the rest of my night proceeded.
9.55 – Arrived in Gummenen. We were tipped off the train and told that there were works and we’d have to get a replacement bus.
10.25 – Still no sign of the bus.
I was sitting on the steps at the bottom of a station I’d never heard of, with no clearer idea of where I was than “somewhere between Bern and Neuchatel”, in the middle of the countryside, where the only sounds were people muttering about the lack of bus, crickets chirping and our train, still sitting at the platform above us. Every now and then someone would go back to the station to ask when the bus was coming, but they didn’t seem to ever come back.
Finally, a station worker came out. He said something in German but it appeared that there were no German speakers among the entire trainload. They asked him to speak in French, but it took a long time for him to realise, although he seemed to be fluent in it. What he did say was that the bus was coming sometime.
I was sort of worried, but it seemed there were a lot of us, probably 50 or 60, all in the same boat, so at least I wasn’t alone, although I did wonder if I was going to get home before the morning. People were getting angry, people who had connecting trains, mostly from Neuchatel. There was an old lady going to Chaux-de-Fonds who was going to miss the last train and people going off in various directions, so me, only missing one train, seemed to be one of the lucky ones.
Then the bus turned up. A double-decked crimson coach. A lot of people got on the front doors, but soon stopped moving. When I went to the middle doors, I discovered that was because the seats were full and people were queueing up in the aisle instead of going upstairs. I went upstairs and was amazed to find no one sitting at the front, so obviously, I sat there.
That thing was scary. Its lights seemed to do nothing and it was hurtling along these narrow country lanes in almost complete blackness. Then it put its main beams on and they were incredible. Lit up the world for miles around. The driver kept speaking to us and I couldn’t figure out whether he was Francophone or Germanophone because he seemed to have trouble with both. He just kept on apologising and saying he hoped we would come back on the trains.
At 10.35, I arrived at Kerzers. There was a train waiting there to take people to Ins, Marin and Neuchatel. Anyone else was staying on the bus and going on to Morat. I think I’m glad I had to get off the train, because I have no idea whether I would have ended up at Ins or Morat. I think you have to sit in the right half of the train and I don’t think I was. Never mind. I got a fun bus ride and got back to Neuchatel just after 11pm. I now know that if I decide to go on a trip after school, to make it somewhere a bit closer to Spiez and not to go via Bern, because they don’t seem to like sending people to Neuchatel at the best of times.

Switzerland 05-06: Gruyeres

This was the first Triplet trip since Chateau D’Oex. We left it a bit late in the afternoon and didn’t leave Neuchatel until around 2.30, I think. We got a spotty train to Fribourg, waited half an hour there, got a bus to Bulles, waited half an hour there, and got another bus to Gruyeres:
The Swiss believe in decorating their bus stations:


There was a flap and fuss over the lack of soap in the toilets at Fribourg, I think, and then Jemma wasn’t allowed to eat her sandwiches because of germs. I’m not entirely sure what happened. What I do know is that we nearly missed the bus to Gruyeres because Peedee was at the railway station buying a bottle of soap:
Gruyeres was beautiful. A little town set on top of a hill, surrounded by mountains.

This was the main road. And the only road. That’s about all there is to Gruyeres:
To the left there is a castle:
and to the right there is a church:
and beside the church is a sort of walkway, with incredible views. We sat there, ate our picnic and took lots of photos.

But then we had to go back. It was a two and a half hour journey each way and we stayed less than an hour and a half. We sat in the car park and waited for the last bus and I took photos.
There is nothing there. That is the reflection of the car park on a plain black poster.

Jemma and Peedee:
My foot:
We got our various buses and trains back home again and all was good because we hadn’t been out together for a long time.