Postcard 4, 5 & 6 – Billy no mates tour of Switzerland

So, it’s wet. Yesterday was great though so the yings and the yangs are in balance. I take my time with breakfast which is part of the deal and it is substancial if you like it that way. I’m a breakfast light sort of man but I enjoy not rushing.

I have some swimming and floating in a hot tub to do this morning but I do have a visit to the Swiss Transport Museum planned for later.

The weather forecast is notoriously difficult in the mountains, but today, sadly, they got it right. After a brief shower, a float in the hot tub and a good hour in the infinity pool I’m ready for an orienteering session that involves map reading variously, on-foot, by rail and also by bus. The first two are easy but the third is more of a challenge. Not because of maps but the ‘interesting’ layout of the timetable. I revert to Google maps as it not only tells you which bus, it also shows you which stop and even leads you there if you’re more than a few metres away from it.

The train drops me in the middle of the town and, as it’s currently dry, I walk across the bridge and stop to admire the medieval buildings. It’s stunning and reminds me of the archetypal Swiss people depicted in the Harry Potter film. The film script adapters had taken the roof shapes, especially the spires and turrets, and applied them to ladies bonnets and men’s head gear and it’s only now that I appreciate the cleverness and creativeness of it all. Simply marvellous.

The town was established in 800 AD ish to house the serfs who supported the Benedictine Monks so it’s been around for a long time and the varied architecture is the wonderful proof of point. I’d come here again and just walk…

I find the bus parade and catch the 24 which is a bendy-trolley-bus ? and enjoy the journey to the Swiss Transport Museum which is an excellent place to be on a rainy day. If you come here there’s more to it than the outside area with some wonderous stuff on the upper floors of the main building. There’s also some exciting VR experiences in the most unlikely places. The trick is to leave inhibitions outside and jump aboard. There’s also a mountain climbing experience that’s a mixture of climbing wall and VR. Since I’ve no desire to climb the Eiger I manage to talk myself out of it. ?

I wrap the day up in sunshine around the centre with a reasonably priced meal and a (one) Guinness at £10.23 a pint!

Hergiswil, Interlaken Ost, Zweisimmen, Montreux and Geneva

The Interrail Planner App is on fire today. It wants to route me to Geneva through Bern and miss out all the good bits. I suppose it’s great if you live here and don’t want to go through the mountains but I do, so I have to split the journey into stages that act as a guide to the app’s intelligence. I’ve received a message from Cecilia showing her itinerary from a couple of weeks ago and whilst it’s not exactly what I want to do it acts as a template that I reverse engineer and add in stops that I had on my own list. It also acts as a pilot to guide the planning engine in the App.

Breakfast over and everything planned and the beauty of Interrail is that you can change your mind and make the necessary alterations to your ticket whilst you’re on the train (if you have a signal).

The first leg is along the lake side in the rain and there’s plenty of it. Initially, I think it might ruin the day but whilst it is a hinderance the bright spells in between make up for the fog or mist and as we ascend into the mountains and wriggle our way around the passes the periods of clarity improve revealing one astonishing view after another.

For part of the first leg a bunch of twenty or so junior school kids get on the carriage that I’m in and another group but this time of business men and women complain about the noise and move to another carriage. The kids settle in no time and then get off a couple of stations down – result – I’m in a carriage with two other people and can swap sides to my hearts content as the train meanders its way across each side of the valley.

I need to change trains at Interlaken and have the option to dash across the platforms to the connecting train or leave it an hour or so and have a look around. The weather is showery but currently clear so I take advantage of the sun and have a walk along the river. It’s still showery but well worth the break if only for the steps but it also lets me take in the tracks, rack-trains and cable cars that can be taken from here. Clearly, today is not the day but I’d certainly come back in a heartbeat, it’s the hub of lots of things and lovely.

I’m back on the train now heading to Zweisimmen and this time it’s a double decker so no prizes for guessing where I’m sitting.

I help a businesswoman who is struggling with a charging cable for her phone and the payback is priceless. She sketches out the side of the train to sit after each of the stations on this leg and I get some tremendous views and snaps – happy boy!

It’s coming down in stair-rods in Zweisimmen and there is a connection already standing at the platform opposite so I dash across and fire the app up to change the ticket. The conductor is approaching me just as I switch the new ticket on and there’s a heart stopping moment as we wait for it to generate the QR code. In fairness it’s not far off instantaneous but when you’ve got someone waving a scanner with expectations then waiting for it to happen lends itself to a little bit of acute anxiety.

It scans and she’s happy so with a cheery, “Merci” she’s off to the next carriage. Just for interest, we are in the German speaking part of the country but the “politenesses” tend to be French with a tiny smattering of English. I’ve had “Thank you’s” on numerous occasions and still have no idea how they can tell I’m English – In the South of England it’s just the same!

I’m in the ‘Golden Pass’ train with special windows that can be opened so you don’t get reflections when you’re taking photos; however, today, I only get a limited time with it open due to the showers but it doesn’t detract from what I’m seeing outside. This is proper ‘chocolate-box’ country with views straight from Heidi. I’ve mentioned the meadows earlier but these are even more beautiful. They’re stuffed with buttercups, daisies and all kinds of mountain cum meadow plants along with the the long grass. There are goats and sheep on the steeper slopes and cows towards the bottoms and all of them have a bell which tolls as they eat or chew the cud. Marvellous.

There are request stops and halts. The halts appear to be mandatory and the others are obvious but it lends itself to a ‘Cannonball Express’ analogy where Casey Jones (the Driver) always won the day. It was broadcast in the late 1950s and I’m remembering it now. He too, would stop anytime he wished whether it was for fishing from a bridge or dealing with some outlaw. We’re not fishing or killing outlaws but the concept holds 🙂

We reach the highest point and the sun is shining. The conductor and her assistant step out and quite a number of passengers join them to take photos and selfies. It’s a gorgeous shared experience but there’s a mini-stampede when one of them steps back on the train and within two or three minutes there’s a toot on the whistle and we’re off again but this time it’s largely down.

There are lakes, mountains, forests and more meadows coupled with streams, rivers, waterfalls of every height and width and us winding our way through it all. Wonderful.

As we drop down to Montreux there is a flurry of activity to capture the town and lake in their entirety from our vantage on the mountain and then we’re back into the suburbs and into the station. It’s a magical experience and I nod into a semi-snooze for the remainder of the journey to Geneva.

What a day despite the showers.

PS. I managed to get a few of the snaps through the open window but as the weather altered the rest were taken through glass with raindrops. Please bare that in mind when assessing the quality. G x

Postcard 6 around Geneva

Today was a wonderful day with my own personal guide to show me around Geneva.

It begins with a natural move in bed, just changing position and my toe rubs the sheet, just a tiny rub you understand, barely a rub really, more like being caressed by a butterfly wing but the result was pain so excruciating that it really requires me to hurl myself out of bed and writhe about on the floor clutching my foot; however, I’ve been here before and I know it’s gout!

I need to move that sheet that’s ‘nearly’ touching my toe and it needs to be done ‘without’ touching my toe. No sudden jolts, and definitely no contact with anything, not even a butterfly wing. This is not a good opener for a long walk. I manage to extract myself very carefully from the bed without contact with anything whilst keeping a keen eye out for butterflies. Putting my left foot on the floor is done with Swiss clockwork precision and at the speed of an hour hand having a rest. I hobble to my toiletries bag for the colchicine. They’re tiny pills the size of a pin head that doctors prescribe reluctantly and only after giving dire warnings about possible side effects and where to present yourself if any of them make an appearance. I’m lucky in that they only make me feel crap after a couple of days and by then it’s usually under control. As I’ve got this very early in its manifestation there’s a bit of a chance I might have it in control (not cured but at least not getting worse) by lunchtime and just need to limp a lot through the afternoon. The ‘wise ones’ seem to be divided regarding whether to exercise with gout. On balance it would seem about 70% feel that it’s a good thing as it helps break down the crystals that have formed in the joint.

So I neck the colchicine and hope I’m on top of it for later.

Later arrives and Rudina (Frank’s lovely partner) comes into the room and I’m given a lift immediately by her smile. I explain the limp and she responds with some thoughts that will still enable most of her plans but massively aided by the amazing bus and tram service in Geneva. We might even see more.

First move is the important one and we go to eat. It’s not cheap to eat in Switzerland but this lovely place is reasonable and very friendly to boot. Rudina does most of the ordering in one of the multiple languages that she has and in this case French. I am used to at least doing a bit in Spain but French is a mystery to me but I do try with the odd oui and merci along with smiling and nodding a lot. It’s a great Thia salad that I’ll be trying at home.

The cuisine here is very much international as is the city. The United Nations, International Red Cross and Red Crescent, World Council of Churches, and more financial institutions than you can shake a gold-bullion-bar at together with many more huge international institutions are based here and all recruit from around the world. It makes it a vibrant and wonderfully interesting city.

So, fed and watered we head for the town centre and special surprise as we catch a trolley bus to there there’s a confluence of two rivers. Rudina’s kept it a secret so as I peer over the railings down at the two water flows, one from the mountains and one from the lake, it’s completely absorbing. The two flows maintain their respective currents for several hundred metres downstream. One is completely grey/white presumably from the chalky hills and the other is virtually clear but deep and so appears dark and forbidding. It’s fascinating and well worth the trip to see it. However, the surprise isn’t over yet as she takes us around a couple of blocks of beautiful apartments to a railway bridge that has a walkway attached. It’s about 30m (hundred feet) above the river and gives us an unimpeded view of both the physical flows of the two rivers and we can even see the eddies as the two environments start the process of mixing to become Le Rhône as it meanders its way to Lion then to the Mediterranean. Apparently, it’s over 800km long and discharges the largest proportion of fresh water and nutrients into the Med – now you know as much as me!

I’d urge you to make this little trip for its fascination value but also combine this with a warning that sometimes (I’m told) the tributary Le Arve is not as silty and the demarcation is not as visible as today.

Off we go back to the town centre and after a gout assessment, we’re off to the old town via the Russian Church. The trip is accomplished by bus but this time it’s a mini-bus and when we get into the Old Town streets we know why. It drops us at the Russian Church and whilst it’s not big, it really is impressive.

Cathédrale de l’Exaltation de la Sainte Croix, (Cathedral of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – in English)

It has the onion domes which are the ‘trade mark’ of St Basil’s in Moscow but nowhere as big. They’re shining in the sun and are testament to the huge renovation that took place fifty or so years ago. It’s another great find and I’m not sure I would have seen it without my ‘guide’.

…but there’s more to see and we catch the little mini-bus again – bang on time and it wends its way through the narrow streets and up a hill to a cobbled area and the magnificent if plain St Peter’s Cathedral. Sometimes a building can be magnificent even when relatively plain and inside the main emphasis is the stained glass windows which cast multi-coloured sunbeams in the suspended dust in the still atmosphere of the huge nave.

It’s used regularly for music concerts and I can see why – magnificent.

The way back is via some cobbled back streets where we discover the building where the Red Cross was first established, now there’s a bonus.

More descent and we’re back in the main shopping area where busses and trams run regularly and the bonus is there is a pharmacy. I’ve been keeping an eye out for one to get Ibuprofen for the gout. When colchicine starts to poison me I need another anti-inflammatory to finish the job. I’m walking in the Lakes with the ‘boys’ next week so it needs to be right by then and in fairness it feels like it’s going in the right direction. Anyway, the pharmacist speaks excellent English and my request for generic Ibuprofen for gout results in a box of ten, they’re 400mg so double strength but you need to save up – In Britain, we’re talking about 60 or 70 pence, here they’re just under £10!

Rudina knows a special place on the banks of the Rhône where we can relax and order some drinks. The sun has been out for most of the afternoon so this will be welcome and within a few minutes we’re semi-stretched out on some chairs that encourage relaxation and the gently swirling Rhône is doing its bit to add to the city centre tranquillity, what’s not to like?

After an hour or so and well tranquillised by this little oasis we head out towards Rudina’s apartment to an Irish Bar (they get everywhere) where a couple of Guinness see the day to an appropriate end.

Thanks, Rudina. Magic!

Enjoy the snaps G x

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