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                                                                                                               Summer in Switzerland      
              


 The triangular faced Matterhorn, seen from top end of the tiny
  railway that runs from Zermatt.

 

 

 

 

Lake Lucerne view as the trolley scales Mt. Rigi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 The clear blue waters of Lake Lucerne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rail Station for Mt. Pilatus

 

 

 

 

Bern, Switzerland's capitol, maintains it "old town," separated
by the Aare River

                                
Tom on the famous Nydeggbbruke bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kyburg Castle overlooks the Aare River flowing out of Lake Thun
toward Bern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author admires local canon.

 

 

 

 

The Zermatt Museum at the high end of Bahnhoffstrasse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thun, Switzerland

As a wide-eyed boy on my first trip to Disneyland,
I stood in awe of the gargantuous "snowy peak" that
I would soon learn was called the "Matterhorn." 
I promised myself then that I would be standing here
now- braced to set out on an alpine adventure that
would climax on the icy granite slopes of this magical
mountain known the world round.



We switch roles so I can photograph Tom's feeling of accomplishment.

There is much to do between our starting point here
in the heartland of this fascinating country and our
final destination in Zermatt at Switzerland’s southern border. 
It's mid-June and the summer sports activities of this
high-altitude playground are in full swing.  Joined by my
friend Tom, I'm impatient to get going and "conquer"
my first mountain, Mt. Rigi.

We set up our "base camp" in a cozy bed & breakfast in
this picturesque lakeside town.  Fortunately for city slickers
like us, reaching Rigi's top- and those of many other dramatic peaks- has been made quite easy.  In 1887 the tracks of a cogwheel railroad line were amazingly laid up to Rigi's 6,000-foot summit.  Today, trekkers like Tom and I have only to get a ticket and jump aboard an antique rail car.  As if pushed back into our seats, we begin our ascent at a bewildering grade of 65 degrees.  The valley floor quickly disappears behind us and we soon find ourselves in an expansive verdant meadow awash with the delicate colors and fragrances of Edelweiss, Gentian Ella and Asters.

A well-designed feature of rail lines such as Rigi's is that
there are several optional stops during the ascent.  You can
disembark and hike leisurely along countless trails that
meander among velvet green pastures.  We opt for the
crunchy gravel pathway that's a manageable 3-hour walk
leading through thickets of Norway spruce up to the craggy
summit.  Here awaits an exhilarating panorama of the
breathtaking Santis Alps.  This will be the first of several
days enjoying unhurried hikes on sun-drenched, pristine slopes.

Nighttime finds us back at our room on Kapellgasse Street in
the heart of historic Lucerne.  Meticulously maintained and
preserved, the Swiss consider Lucerne as one of the country's
most beautiful towns.  The architecture of its quaint streets
echoes the city's rich Baroque and Renaissance Heritage.
The warmth of the midsummer evening allows us to stroll
the gas lighted streets. Eventually we chose one of many
enticing sidewalk restaurants embracing the banks of the
Ruess River and nearby waterfront.

Afterwards we ferreted out some great places to mingle with
"the natives," like the Widder Bar & Cafe at Steinenstrasse 2. 
Gregarious English-speaking crowds seem somehow amused
by our American accents and jokingly inquire if Britney
Spears lives in our town.  A couple of  favorite local hangouts 
are the Bläch Bar in the Hotel Flora at Seidenhofstrasse 5 and
the Halu Disco at Geissensteinring 14.  

You need at least two days here just to poke around the
museums in Lucerne- treasure troves of armored suits, trophies,
weapons and artifacts from the Middle Ages.  Near the Lion
Monument is the Swiss Transport Museum, the most
comprehensive exhibition of its kind in Europe.  Interactive
displays range from antique cars to future space stations. 
Ironically, the IMAX Theater in this complex presents
“Extreme2002,” a large format documentary on the daring
types of sports activities we will be seeing later in the trip. 
Lucerne also has a myriad of tempting specialty shops
and boutiques featuring precision timepieces, art, jewelry
and, of course, Swiss chocolates.

Not to be missed here is the 6-hour cruise around Lake
Lucerne.   The quay is just footsteps from the end of the
city’s most fabled landmark, the Kapellbrucke wooden
bridge, a 600-foot long covered structure first constructed
in the 13th century.  The impressive 200' steamer the "Stad
Lucerne" glides along a shoreline graced with one
magnificent villa after another.  The steep hillsides jutting
above the lake are dotted with luxurious estates, elegant
summer residences and sumptuous private spas.  Every
few minutes you pass a thundering cascade, tumbling
hundreds of feet into Lucerne's crystal clear waters. 
Practicing for the upcoming Rotsee-boat races, ten
muscle-bound guys swiftly overtake our ship.

Leaving the Lucerne area we follow a ribbon-like two-way
road that skirts the southwest edges of Mounts Pilatus
and Brienzer Rothorn.  Both peaks tower some 3000
feet over the valley floor.  Abruptly Lake Brienz appears
before us; its azure blue surface reflecting the snow covered
Bernese Oberland Mountains behind it.  Here in the
geographic center of Switzerland is one of Europe's
favorite summer getaways.  Known as the Swiss Riviera,
Lake Thun and Lake Brienz afford nearly every aquatic
recreational activity imaginable…and unimaginable. 
Water skiing, wind surfing, swimming, boating, fishing,
and jet skiing, of course, have always been popular here. 
So too is treacherous genre of outdoor activities called
“Extreme Sports.”  These include bungee jumping into
waterfalls, whitewater rafting the severest of Switzerland’s
rapids, sheer vertical rock assault and previously
unconsidered ice climbing.  Within the last two years
this region is also now the international center for Human
Powered Vehicle races.  Really bizarre inventions-looking
like contraptions from a Jules Verne novel-compete for
record speeds over the water, on the ground and in the air. 
For Tom and me, the swinging gondola ride up to an
observation platform over 4000 feet above the Luttschine
Valley was excitement enough!

We discover Interlaken, the summer Mecca for Europe’s
international jet set.  This little city cradles dozens of intimate,
five star hotels.  Ready to meet the demands of this
sophisticated clientele are a host of world-class restaurants. 
Horse drawn carriages clomp up and down Hohewegstrasse,
carrying elegantly dressed passengers to their desired
destinations.  One of these is the world famous Casino
Kursaal.  Here you cannot only try your luck with slots
and cards, they also have a unique game called “Le Boule,”
a Swiss twist on the game of Roulette.

But the attractions here in Interlaken are hardly just for the
rich and famous.  A young crowd gravitates to this place for
their summer holidays and the intensity of the nightlife in this
small Swiss village rivals that of Zurich and Bern.  The hottest
places are the discotheques, such as Johnny’s, Hollywood
and the Metropole.  You may be in the center of Switzerland,
but the dance beat is definitely American.

Aare Café, the Schnadis and the Steren offer exemplary fares
of the finest in Swiss culinary arts.  Typical offerings include
Geschnetzeltes nach Zurcher Art
(thin-sliced veal with a
cream sauce), Zurcher Leberspiessli (liver strips with sage
seasoning, spit-roasted and served with beans), and
Ratsherrentopf
(mixed grill on a bed of rice or noodles). 

The premium wines of Germany, France Spain and Italy are
available in an unlimited selection.  It’s more economical to
order Swiss white wine, which has a light, effervescent quality.

About an hour drive down the valley is a village that captures my
heart, Thun.  This is considered to be the most original town
throughout Switzerland and indeed, I feel dropped back into
medieval times.  The old quarters remain just as they were in
the 13th century.  Above all the gabled houses rises the
formidable and intimidating Kyburg Castle.  I feel like there’s
a king, knight or lord peering down on us from its keep,
scrutinizing our every move.  An uncontrollable curiosity
overwhelms us and we scurry up the winding, narrow streets
to the city’s crest.  We’re delighted to discover that this fortress
is now a historical museum and we can climb its circular stone
stairways to the tops of its four skinny turrets.  From this lookout
we are completely encircled by the commanding Bernese Alps.

We still have yet to see thee mountain and the roadway beckons
us to head southward.  It is soon that the valley floor comes to an
end and we’re confronted with the necessity of taking the car-train
that runs through the Lotchberg Tunnel.  This incredible
subterranean cavity, completed in 1913, runs for 9 miles.  
With extreme trepidation I drive our car up a rickety metal ramp
onto a rusty triple-layered flatbed rail car.  Other autos follow and
take their directed places below and above us.  We lock ourselves
inside our Fiat and the train starts moving.  The next thing we realize it that we’re moving through total darkness at a hand-wrenching speed of 45 miles per hour!  The rumbling and grumbling must be a 130 decibels as we’re swept beneath some 6000 feet of solid granite.  We are deposited in yet another gorgeous valley and eagerly set off for the town of Tasch.

I may be mistaken in labeling Tasch a town.  It seems to actually be
one enormous parking lot holding a thousand autos, trucks and RV’s.  Vehicles are not permitted in Zermatt, the city that is situated at the very base of the Matterhorn.  My adrenaline kicks in as we tumble aboard a small train which arduously creeks its way some three miles up a wooded hillside.  I jump off the train and there at the end of Zermatt’s main street the Matterhorn looms authoritatively.  I sense it looking at me as if it had been waiting impatiently for my overdue arrival.  I freeze in my tracks, mystified and mesmerized by its
triangular magic.

This natural, enigmatic pyramid has a long history of captivating
the spirits of people.  For some the attraction has been fatal. 
The countless stories of tragedy and triumph are retold in the
Alpine Museum situated at the foot of the mountain.  It’s an eerie
feeling to be in such close proximity to all the ropes, pick axes,
gizmos and gadgets of previous mountaineers. 

In 1865 a British illustrator Edward Whymper was the first person
to reach its jagged top.  Four of his companions, however, were
killed during that expedition.  “Mt. Cervin”, as it is officially called,
would forever more be known as the “Killer Alp.”  The climb
remains exceptionally risky, because its high slopes are extremely
steep and uniquely concave and covered with snow year-round. 

Hundreds of expert climbers accept the challenge of the
Matterhorn each year.  Arrangements with experienced local
guides can be readily made in advance over the Internet or
at one of the rental stores.  For Tom and me the method of
viewing this 15,000-foot giant is the tried and true rack
railway that runs up the face of its neighboring Griffelberg. 
This is the highest open-air railway in Europe and accesses
a convenient lookout during the summer.  Cable cars on
other routes make skiing, tobogganing and snowboarding
available virtually 365 days a year.  Equipment rentals are
available at shops on Bahnhofstrasse .

Our time here in the shadow of the Europeans’ favorite
natural landmark is inexplicably  wondrous and unforgettable. 
We complete our summer vacation in Switzerland with joyous
memories and the hope that we will one day soon return.