Category Archives: Paris-Romania 2010: 3 Lausanne to Zurich

Zurich

Today was a welcome and really enjoyable rest day, and exploring the city of Zurich was an unexpected treat for me. We bought a tourist card allowing travel by trolley bus or train throughout the day, hopping on and off when we reached our destination, or getting off and heading back in the other direction when we went wrong. Despite having had the good sense to bring Andy on this trip with me that still proved necessary on a couple of occasions.

The city has lake, river, mountain scenery and historic town to explore. I enjoyed the Grossmunster church, with magnificent abstract stained glass windows designed recently by Sigmar Polke. One series of windows had patterns produced by thin slices of agate stone which were back lit in sunlight and produced beautiful kaleidoscopic effects. So, my first souvenir purchase of the trip – two postcards of my favourite windows!

Bellevue
Bellevue
The river Limmat – Zurich
The river Limmat – Zurich

We also visited the old town, the Fraumunster church with windows by Marc Chagall, and the Kunsthaus, one of the main art galleries in Switzerland. We spent a long time admiring Monet Waterlillies, three from the series in a room of much greater tranquillity than hung in the National Gallery in London. It could be the relative number of people visiting or it could be a reflection of my current calm state of mind. Or it could be both.

View from the Grossmunster church tower
View from the Grossmunster church tower

As the day got warmer and the sun came out we decided to take a train up to the main Zurich viewpoint, the Uetilberg Mountain. This gave great views and proved to be a popular local Sunday afternoon activity. Zurich types seem to go in for dog walks involving taking the train up the hill, carrying the dog and the dog’s stick and then having a very short walk on the mountain paths. Today we did actually see a very pampered dog (wearing a pink dog coat, and with pink ribbons in its hair) which was being followed on its walk by a chap pushing a pink pooch-chair for when the poor thing got tired. Sometimes I despair of humankind, hope it doesn’t show too often.

Track of the day: Paul Simon, Rene and Georgette Magritte and their dog after the war, because this came into my head the instant we stood before a Magritte painting in the art gallery today!

 

Lucerne to Zurich

When it rains in Switzerland it certainly rains! This has been non-stop for 48 hours, but it does seem to have dried up now, as I sit here in this smart hotel in Zurich. Amazing that they let us in – given that we arrived wet and covered in dirt – some from the wet road and more from mending a puncture in the rain. But we were given a friendly reception and were even told we could take the bikes up to our room!

Last night in Lucerne was the start of the International Blues Festival and there was a party atmosphere – despite the weather. The town is in a delightful setting on the edge of the lake with mountains all around. The famous medieval wooden covered bridge seemed to be the star attraction – despite the original having burnt down in 1993.

Covered bridge in Lucerne
Covered bridge in Lucerne

We spent a pleasant evening looking round the old town and went to sleep with the sound of live blues reverberating through the streets.

Today has been a straightforward enough 35 mile ride through to Zurich – though quite hard work in the coldish rain. There were what would have been great views of Lake Lucerne, but the low cloud blotted most of it out.

Helen staying cheerful (and Lake Lucerne - just!)
Helen staying cheerful (and Lake Lucerne – just!)

It was amazing then that there were still planes flying for the air show that we had been told about yesterday. A huge jumbo jet, hopefully without passengers, was pulling the aviation equivalent of handbrake turns over our head in a showing off sort of a way.

We stayed cheerful – even when having to mend the aforementioned rear puncture – and the rain eased off on the final climb over the ridge to Zurich. So here we are – nearly at the end of Switzerland and with a day off the bike tomorrow to enjoy Zurich.

Helen’s track of the day: Mr Carlos Santana, Smooth, because he is on another world tour and arrives in this area in September. I hope he has packed his brolly. And because I needed something loud to keep me going on a day when the effort felt considerable. But over 600 miles now done!

Langnau to Lucerne

A bit of an eventful one today! First there was the weather. It dawned dry but under heavy cloud that was hanging right down to the valley floor. As we set off so the rain began – and it has been raining at least steadily – often hard – all day.

Then there was the accident. After a couple of miles we crossed a level crossing. The track was at a shallow angle to the road and I was leading. But I didn’t turn to take it at right angles and got my front wheel caught in the slot. I went down heavily. Helen failed to stop in the wet and on the slippery rubber between the tracks and went down on top of me! Bikes, bags and bodies everywhere! Helen hit her head hard on the road (the benefits of wearing a helmet) and we suffered minor road rash – but we soon disentangled the bikes, got out the first aid kit and began to patch ourselves up. But we had forgotten that we were in the middle of a level crossing and just then the warning sounds started to indicate that the barriers would soon come down! Queue another burst of panic as we dragged everything right off the crossing. Strangely enough I didn’t think of taking pictures.

Then there was the shortcut. We had crossed a gentle pass out of the Emmental valley and had a downhill run on a fairly big road all the way to Lucerne. But the valley we were in did a large dogleg to the north – and I had seen a minor road cutting the corner. I knew it must go over a ridge – but hadn’t bothered to check the spot heights. Needless to say, it turned into a classic little climb up into the clouds, up a series of beautifully engineered steep zig zags. I loved it, but Helen did not seem impressed! From the pass there was a gem of a descent through classic Swiss pasture land – all still in the driving rain you understand. As I may have said at the bottom – cracking shortcut Grommit!

Helen descending from the shortcut
Helen descending from the shortcut

Finally, there was the tourist office in Lucerne. From what we could see through the rain, this looks a lovely place, but a hotel seemed more attractive than the tent. So we stood making huge puddles on the desk, and the floor, whilst our newest friend Irene told us that Lucerne was full – what with the Blues festival tonight and the Swiss national air display tomorrow. A queue of normal people began to build up behind us as we dripped and listened to the lengthy account of Lucerne’s attractions. But our luck was in and we grabbed a cancellation in a hostel – where the rain continues to fall. But at least we are in the dry.

Helen’s track of the day:

Wed – Elbow: Starlings because I have enjoyed the droll northern humour of this song a lot.

Thursday – Cyndi Lauper: Girls Just Want to Have Fun, heard at the breakfast stop today and seemed to stick with me during the day.

Today- to be honest the last 2 songs stayed with me all day, but by rest time tonight I needed something calmer, and enjoyed Fleet Foxes, Tiger Mountain Peasant Song which reminded me of my ponderings during the day about how mountain people live with all this rain.

Bern to Langnau

It was good to be back on the bikes today after a rest. In fact, the day was a bit short!

Today we were retracing more landmarks from a family house exchange holiday with Catherine and Daniel in 1997, when we had use of an apartment in Burgdorf. This lovely small town in the Emmental is 12 miles from Bern, over a ridge. We arrived mid morning and wandered around reminiscing. More usefully, we found a small bike shop where a mechanic tuned my misfiring rear derailleur.

The toy shop in Burgdorf
The toy shop in Burgdorf
View over Burgdorf
View over Burgdorf

From Burgdorf we turned up the Emmental valley. This has none of the spectacular mountains of the Simmental, but it has a rural charm all of its own. We used a cycle route off the main road and rode through tiny rural hamlets and farmyards. With dampness from rain the previous night, and more storms brewing, you could smell the grass growing and the cheese curdling!

The Emmental bike trail
The Emmental bike trail

In the absence of convenient campsites the plan had been to stay at the Youth Hostel in Langnau. But there was clearly a storm brewing, and the YH dorm was very basic indeed – so we remembered that we are 50 after all, and checked into the hotel instead! This is lovely, and I am now watching both the rain hammer down outside and the final big mountain day of the TDF. Heaven!

Farmsteads in the Emmental
Farmsteads in the Emmental

Bern

Andy’s recent blogs suggest a strong focus on biking, stats and activity. I agree with Jane’s recent comment that it is tiring just reading about it. What he misses is all the incidentals that make the trip interesting. No mention for example of the preponderance of garden gnomes through the Bernese Oberland as we came down to Bern. Or the range of exuberant moustaches worn by German Swiss chaps, some also smoking pipes. When did we last see a pipe smoker in England? It looked so bizarre I almost like the eccentricity of it. And crucially no mention of the almost inedible cheese sandwich lunch, the one where the bread is smothered in mustard, so ruining any flavour from the cheese, and where a pickled gherkin is seen as a garnish of distinction. In a different land we have certainly arrived.

The day in the lovely city of Bern began with a pleasant stroll through the Rosengarten at the top of the incline overlooking the old town. How pleasant to hear a cornet player practicing their music I thought, no says Andy that’s a French horn. Well no, it turned out to be an alpenhorn, a huge thing and quite a sight and somehow a fitting start to our wanderings.

View of Bern from the Rosengarten
View of Bern from the Rosengarten

We managed to explore the Paul Klee museum, nodding sagely in front of minimalist depictions of shape and form (Klee’s later period for those who needed to know). I do love Klee’s colourful works though we seem to have hit upon an exhibition of his secret works, not necessarily ideal for two beginners in art appreciation. I found myself, not for the first time, appreciating the footwear of those around me. Hurrah for red shoe wearers I say, adding a cheery nuance in the mix I always think. Anyway it was all very calming, and thankfully not as minimalist as an art exhibition I took the family to in Aalborg, Denmark on one holiday. There an artist, as invited curator, had taken all the paintings off the wall except for one, stating that he aimed for art appreciation in the mind, so we should look at the bare walls. We all found that a bit difficult – and refunds were not allowed, though I do remember the cafe being quite good.

Anyway, Bern – we went on to explore a museum about alpine climbing, where Andy was in his element amongst maps, relief maps of the Swiss mountains, cross sectional diagrams of the geology of the alps, honestly he is now ready for Mastermind on Swiss Mountain features, though he may need a bit more practice on which mountain is which….

After trolley bus rides, the biggest salad lunch possible, a check on the Bern brown bears, still a tourist sight here and in their new enclosure next to the river, we are now getting ready to get back on the bikes.

The new bear enclosure – Bern
The new bear enclosure – Bern

My new friends in the tourist office have rung ahead to the Jugendherberge in Langnau to reserve a place there, so tomorrow we will be getting down with the kids.

Thun to Bern

French, Dutch, German and Swiss campers are wonderful, socialised people. This campsite is exquisitely organised, without any fuss – and there are happy families everywhere. Helen says the latter are the perfect antidote for a jaded children’s social worker! The views across the lake in the evening light, with children still playing in the water, were unforgettable. And they all kept quiet, as if by magic, from 10.30 pm!

The evening views of the mountains were stunning. This was the best I could do with the zoom. Thanks to Tim for getting the ID right – see comments below.

The Eiger and the Mönch
The Eiger and the Mönch

The light the next morning was nearly as good – though I couldn’t light both Helen and the mountains (yes, I chose the latter!).

Morning on the Thunsee
Morning on the Thunsee

We tore ourselves away and pedalled 5 flat miles into Thun – a lovely town that we had fallen in love with some years earlier. The glacial melt water tearing out of the Thunsee is aquamarine, and the traditional wooden roofed bridges are lovely.

A covered bridge in Thun
A covered bridge in Thun

Now we are in Bern, where we plan to have an unplanned day off from cycling. What I mean is – the trip is planned so that we should arrive in Vienna on August 15th for a week with Catherine, Luke, Dan and Pauline. But we have put some ‘extra’ days in the schedule to be taken in emergencies, bad weather, tiredness or just because we like somewhere too much to want to move on. Bern is a mixture of the last two! So we have booked into a hotel for 2 nights and we’ll explore Bern more thoroughly tomorrow.

View over Bern
View over Bern

Helen’s track of the day: Nina Simone, Feeling Good. Woke up with this in my head today which is a very good sign though today it would more accurate to say feeling good, and feeling tired.

Gruyeres to Thun

This was possibly the best day yet? It was certainly the most satisfying. We successfully climbed up and over the Jaunpass at 1509 m, between huge limestone peaks in great weather, descending into the Simmental valley in the Bernese Oberland, re-crossing the north/south watershed of Europe and switching from French to German in the process.

We were up early and were away around 7.15. There was a climb of about 250 m just to get up to the valley leading to the pass – and breakfast in a welcome cafe. Then a flattish lead in to the village of Jaun and the business end of things – 5.7 km to climb 530 m (that’s about 9% average – and that’s steep!).

The view back to Jaun
The view back to Jaun

In fact the first 4 km or so were at 10%, with the gradient easing after a tunnel higher up. And this time both of us peddled every inch – no pushing involved!

The tunnel exit
The tunnel exit

The top was quite enclosed and didn’t have the best views – but here is the crucial photo!

Summit of the Jaunpass 1508 m
Summit of the Jaunpass 1508 m

The descent was brilliant – 600m down to the valley floor and then another 300 m down the Simmental to Thun. Here we are camping at a lovely site on the shore of the Thunsee. I have just been swimming in the lake whilst admiring the north face of the Eiger. Fantastic!

Helen’s track of the day: The Kooks, She Moves In Her Own Way, something jolly and simple to hum in today’s exertions.

Lausanne to Gruyeres

A beautiful morning saw us leaving reluctantly our excellent hotel in Lausanne. And it turned out to be a much harder day than we expected. First, the climb out of Lausanne was extremely steep – even worse than the bank out of Besancon – with extended sections at about 15%. Still, we made it and found coffee and outsized Jammy Dodgers at a cafe at the top. The view back to the lake over 300 m below was superb.

View back to Lausanne
View back to Lausanne

Then the second section was less steep, but always uphill on small lanes and into a headwind blowing about 25 mph. So even when the road was flat, or slightly downhill, we still had to pedal as hard as a 3% uphill gradient. But the scenery was stunning – we kept having to pinch ourselves – cycling high in the Alps, with jagged peaks all around!

Who cares about a headwind in this scenery?
Who cares about a headwind in this scenery?

In mid afternoon we found small towns again and a welcome cafe stop, having run out of water. Then we began the last leg to the campsite near Gruyeres. 28 miles had taken nearly four hours of cycling. But then we had done 825 m of climbing into a headwind! Just the Jaunpass tomorrow!

Helen’s track of the day: Arcade Fire, Wake Up- a stirring anthem to keep my spirits up today.

 

Gruyere - another hilltop town!
Gruyere – another hilltop town!