A Travellerspoint blog

Geneva

A Quick Stop in the United Nations Headquarters

rain 20 °C
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Our trip from Chamonix took us through some splendid gorges and out into open pasture land and before we knew it we were back in Switzerland staring squarely at the enormous water spout in the middle of the lake. It needs to be noted here and now that having left some of the most spectacular scenery we have ever seen it is difficult to get excited about a spout of water in a lake, but there you have it, just like Canberra they must have a reason for shooting water 140 m into the air.

The campsite was average by European standards which we have become accustomed to, however it was well positioned by the lake and afforded a short drive into the heart of Geneva.

We spent the afternoon mixing sightseeing with restocking on supplies, in particular more gas and a teatowel, to cook tea and then wipe down the implements before the next round. Geneva is nicely set out with a sweeping boulavarde complete with trams and exorbitant shopping; much of which we cannot resist looking at then muttering under our breath what a waste of money but oh how it would look sweet on my wrist...

A quick visit to the church and stroll through the pedestrian arcades and that was about all the 'city' we could handle so we ran for greener pastures in the botanical gardens. Dear Geneva, we pique niqued in your botanical gardens unauthorised and we are not sorry, please change your policy at the first convenience as it would attract additional visitors to your lovely gardens, sincerely The Halls. A few chapters of middle earth, poor Frodo, Gandalf and the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring what tribulations they endure.

Back at the campsite it was time to experiment. Who said that selfcaterers should not enjoy the warmth of fresh popcorn on a stormy afternoon. After finding that the oil has now permanently burnt to the bottom of the pan we tried to enjoy the soft fluffy morcels which was easy to do. The rest of the afternoon was spent sitting in the car reading LOTR as the rain came down in sheets. Steve took a moment to eat one of the miscellaneous berries hanging over the fence and thankfully woke up the next day without ailment.

In order to escape the clutches of another city we found our way around the lake, past the United Nations Place (for the second time) and out into the French countryside. All we had was the trusty Lonely Planet to guide us on our lofty quest for Burgundy.

Switzerland has been jam packed with natural wonders, hidden gems and good friends. We will be back, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Posted by snchall 09:35 Archived in Switzerland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Chamonix

More Mountains Only with a French Twist

storm 25 °C
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We have been to many mountain environments yet cannot get enough so we decided to make a short detour via Chamonix in France before heading to Geneva. This may have been influenced by the fact that we have been craving the food a little, in part the ease of using the little French we know and most importantly because we are here anyway so why not.

Chamonix - Vallee Blanche est tres formidable - 18 - 20 July

Regardless of our surrounds, once we arrived in Chamonix we were interested in little else than relaxing by our perfect campsite in the forest, going shopping for muesli, cheese and salmon and most importantly admiring the glaciers which can be seen from every avenue. Day 1 was spent as mentioned above without variation except for an incredibly loud thunder storm to lullaby us to slumber. Today, 20 July we topped our mountain experiences yet again with a magical adventure.

We started our walk from Le Mont in the valley at 1054m aiming our sights at Les Pyramides on the Bosson Glacier at 1890m. This seems like a reasonable stroll up the mountain path for around 2.5 hours, yet the most difficult aspect of the walk was peeling ourselves away from each vantage point as they appeared between the trees.

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Climbing higher we were enjoying the sting of exercise after yesterday evenings indulgence of beer, wine and smoked salmon and blue cheese sandwiches (the later prepared out of the back of the car under another spectacular glacial further up the valley). Our destination at Les Pyramids was reached in the good company of a German teacher living in France teaching German (if you catch our drift). Steve spent his final gasps of breath trying to establish what small-talk basics his language skills allowed. In the meantime Camilla had selected the perfect lunch position to have a stunning view of the sheer cracks and crevasses in the glacier.

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During our time near the ice stream we were lucky enough to witness the marvel of a car sized hunk of ice breaking from the mass and crashing into the rock below. As if this environment does not present itself as a hostile place, a thunder storm erupted as suddenly as the fall of ice and we found ourselves surrounded by the rolling sounds as we descended through the clouds, sun shower and forest back to the safety of the internet cafe where we now sit. Chamonix has been the sophisticated, beautiful and challenging finale to our alpine experiences on this trip, and what a finale it has been, bravo bravo.

Note: To all readers, we are ecstatic to be featured on the front page of the Travellerspoint website, thanks for your interest in our escapades and kind comments during the trip so far.

Posted by snchall 09:41 Archived in France Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Zermatt

Tasch Base Camp for Matterhorn Glacier Exploration

sunny 28 °C
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Reluctantly we left the spectacular scenery of Grindelwald and drove onto a car carriage for a 15km train ride through the mountains from Kanderstep to Goppenstein. Sitting in the car while the train jumped and jerked in an almost pitch black tunnel was a little unnerving.

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Following endless bends in the winding rounds we arrived in Tasch and pitched base camp by the river next to the train shuttle to Zermatt. In the afternoon Camilla relaxed listening to her iPod, drank wine and ate her share of the cheese whilst watching Steve scramble through the brambles up the very steep hill behind the camp site. After a staggering 30 verticle metres it seemed self evident that the additional 2000m would have to be left for another day.

Zermatt - 17 July

We held off on purchasing our tickets to go to the highest lifted point in Europe until we confirmed a clear view from the warmth of our sleeping bags. Bingo, we could see blue skies smiling right back as well as our final destination a mere 2500m above us up the valley. The short cogwheel train trip to Zermatt gave us enough time to overcome the excitement of seeing the Matterhorn for the first time. Although it was only a quick glimps there is no mistaking the curves and rugged beauty of the Matterhorn.

Itching to get higher we dashed through town and jumped on the first cable car to Furi, then Trockenersteg and finally without hesitation to Gletscher Palast, Matterhorn Glacier Paradise at a whopping 3883m. Making friends with a Canadian family we swapped photographic equipment and hints regarding travel in our respective countries. Interestingly Grandma Canada was previously a nurse at Concord Hospital among other hospitals throughout all of Australia. At the top of Europe it is difficult to articulate (partly because the air is so thin up here) just how wonderful it is to be young and healthy living our dreams and seeing such remarkable environments.

Camilla had devised our descent along one of the longer routes which would take us beneath the Matterhorn, via the glaciers and to some of the best vantage points in the Swiss Alps.

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On the trail we spent nearly three hours walking the rugged landscape. Beneath our feet were shards of slate, shale, granite and other rocks in various colours and compositions. Impressive boulders the size of houses were scattered as if thrown by a giant all around us. As we glanced up from the difficult path we caught the changing wig of clouds the Matterhorn wore throughout the day.

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At the end of the navigatable glacier cut valley we ascended sharply for about 100 metres looking out over Zermatt, numerous glacials and valleys, and most importantly an awesome tea stop. At Schwarzsee Paradise we admired the tiny chapel by the lake then descended below the chairlifts deep into the forest to Furi. Our legs were burning and thankfully we made one of the last chairlifts back to Zermatt. Our reward, not that we necessarily deserve one, was a hot pot of Cafe du Pont special Fondue. We will write little here regarding the Swiss national recipe for fear of retribution, however it can be said that we soo eargerly devoured the thick melted cheese dish that it may not have assisted in us getting a restful night so sorely needed.

Having now visited so many stunning mountain environments throughout the trip our only debate is which will we return to first during the ski season.

Posted by snchall 10:48 Archived in Switzerland Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Grindelwald

Via Bern, Switzerlands Capital

sunny 25 °C
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Lucerne to Bern - 13 July

With a little more confusion over our wanting to extend the car rental we rescheduled our visit to Bern and decided today was the day. We were pleased to spend some time in the Swiss capital as it is gorgeous, fortunately it does not feel like a capital city. Our visit included giggling at the fountain depicting a giant devouring young children like Swiss chocolates, admiring the covered walkways and beautifully kept old town set in the bend of the emerald coloured river.

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We headed to the opposite bank to say hello to the bears and dodged the buldosers and workman on our way back to the fresh food market. How can you resist freshly made ravioli, really. Our priority for the afternoon was to make our way from this beautiful capital to the heart of the Swiss alps in Berner Oberland. As if there isn't enough distraction for a driver in Europe, when we approached Interlarken and caught a glimps of the snow capped mountains in the background a Red Bull stunt plane competing in the Air Challenge raced just over our head. After a short stop by the glacial torrents we found our campsite in Grindelwald with an unobstructed view of the North Face on the great Eiger Mountain. This looming 2 km high wall of rock and ice became the perfect backdrop for our breakfasts and dinners for the following few days, AWESOME!

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Day 1 - Jungfraujoch - 14 July

As impoversihed backpackers and determined to beat the tour buses to the highest railway station in Europe we opted for the early bird special ticket to Jungfraujoch. Luckily our campsite was situated only 5 minutes walk through the farmland to the funicular railway station so we enjoyed our sleep in till 5.30am. On the train we began talking with a lovely German couple named Veronika and Matthew who are currently living in Interlarken. Our first stop was to change trains before entering the long tunnel through the mountain. The first viewpoint was a window situated half way up the North Face, so we checked the tent was still there and it was.

When we reached the top at Jungfraujoch and scrambled up the snow to the second view point we were blown away by the near endless view of the Swiss Alps and Europes longest glacier, the Grosser Aletschgletscher at near 25 kms long. Swapping cameras back and forth between the two couples was a welcome relief from the far more difficult task of taking shots at arms length.

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We ventured deep into the glacial man made ice cave to admire the ice carvings, explore the tunnels and enjoy sliding on our boots as if ice skating. The greater challenge was to come as we headed outdoors for the hour long hike across the upper glacier to the mountain hut around the corner. Puffing and panting in the thin air we were continually commenting to one another on the spectacular vistas. The pair of hiking poles Steve has been diligent in carrying since Austria came in very handy on the slippery snow.

We were determined that at reaching our highest altitude ever we would brew our own cuppa to celebrate. Unknowingly we were relying on the electric starter which at this height was rendered useless (for some reason?). Unperturbed Steve asked everyone who passed for a light and was pleased to find that few serious alpine hikers smoke. As for the tea cravings, we were saved by Matthew who came to the rescue by purchasing a lighter as a souvenir gift. The tea was possibly our best yet as we sat on top of Europe watching a small avalanche in the distance, a plane make repeated practice landings on the ice and hearing a large block of ice crack off the cliffs above us (not too close thankfully).

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On our way through the mountain back down the train stopped for 20 minutes without explanation. Almost the moment it stopped Steve thought it appropriate to make jokes about spending the night then almost immediately following he got the noddies and was quiet. Veronika and Matthew suggested walking down to Alpiglen traversing the bottom of the North Face. What a wonderful walk to end the day (1.5 hours) with great company. By 6 pm that evening we could barely keep our eyes open so it was an early night for little alpinists.

Day 2 - Into the Mountains Again (Literally) - 15 July

Determined to make today relaxing and interesting after the excitement and exertion on Jungfraujoch we planned only 3 activities. First on the list was Gletshcerschlucht Gorge. The walk was approximately 1 km each way along a narrow suspended walkway over the raging glacial river below. We savoured the chilling wind that rushed through the gorge before heading out into the contrasting still and hot morning.

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Back in the car we drove the short but scenic route to the adjacent valley of Lauterburnnen. The valley is home to one of the worlds only accessible glacial waterfalls inside a mountain. Trummelbachfall is a series of 10 enormous cascades falling over 150 metres with viewing platforms and tunnels carved into the rock. Our shot below does not include any water however the short glimpses of light beams caught the rising vapour which hung in the air. Seeing and hearing the awesome power of water first hand helps us understand how the surrounding valleys and mountains have been shaped over time. At any given second there is a mere 20,000 litres of water pouring over the edge carrying almost 20,000 tonnes of rock granules per year into the lakes below. The maths multiplies over millions of years to be a significant force in our world.

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After a hot lunch in the moist spongy forest glen we raced down to Interlarken for the finals of the Red Bull Air Challenge. Battling the crowds initially to find a peephole through the fence was given up in favour of a quiet spot in a paddock high on a hill overlooking the whole of Interlarken, the airport where the race was being held and across the lake. While it is easy to admire the skill and courage of the pilots as they dodge and weave through air filled obstacles only metres from the ground we are still happy with our day jobs thank you very much.

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Posted by snchall 10:10 Archived in Switzerland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Lucerne

Lake and Mountain Magic

sunny 10 °C
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On arriving in Lucerne we made a bee line via the supermarket for lunch by the lake. A little bit of housekeeping / admin at the post office was necessary before we visited the beautiful and tragic dying lion war memorial carved out of the cliff.

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On our way back into town Steve made the critical decision to ensure Camilla is fully prepared for all that life could throw at her by selecting the ultimate Swiss army knife. We walked around the remaining fortifications high on the hill then went on to admire the wooden bridges with paintings in the eves, including the famous rebuilt 16th century bridge that burnt down. Impressed with the complex river management system still in use we finished the day with a multicultural dinner. We call it this because the vegetables were from Switzerland, goulash from Czech Republic, German dumplings, cooker purchased in France and gas from Austria.

Day 1 - Lucerne 12 July

Our hope for thismorning was to be able to see Mount Pilatus clear of clouds in brilliant sunshine, and we weren't dissapointed. One of the great benefits of campgrounds is that they often have good discounts on local attractions. Today we spoilt ourselves with the 'Golden Roundtrip' ticket.

The adventure began with an hour and a half ride on a 1902 steam paddleboat from our campsite across the lake to the base of Pilatus. In perfect condition the entire engine bay was open to inspect with the enormous steel piston rods and shafts churning silently. Communication with the captain on the bridge was also in the days of old with the horn and lever. The highlight was still to come with a 40 minute ride on the worlds steepest cogwheel railway (48 degrees) which took us to almost 3000 metres.

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It was very cold and windy conditions yet we enjoyed crystal clear views of the surrounding mountains, the city of Lucerne and lake below. Finding a suitable precipice following our exploration of the summit we fell into reading LOTR and watching the clouds soar up the mountain and over our heads. We returned to the thicker air below via 2 very long cable cars and a trolley bus back into town. Pilatus is highly recommended and the railway is an unforgettable fantastic feat of engineering (seen in the background).

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Our evening entertainment had been planned in advance, well in advance. It was made clear by Camilla prior to our departure from Sydney that wherever we are in the world, we WILL find an English cinema for the premiere of Harry Potter V, Order of the Pheonix. The movie was worth the wait and we are now even moreso looking forward to the release of the 7th and final book.

To top off a magical day we ate dinner with the swans down by the river next to the famous bridges. Camilla didn't make friends with the swans so easily today (probably as she would not share dinner), as they made obvious with their repeated hissing until they got bored and drifted downstream. Lucerne is a must see on any visit to Switzerland as we have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this gorgeous little town.

Posted by snchall 09:51 Archived in Switzerland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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