Saturday, September 24, 2011

Monte Rosa

One of our goals in Switzerland was to hike to a hut in the alps and spend the night.  We almost left it until too late as the first huts we tried to get into were closed already for the winter - but we lucked out and got a place in the new Monte Rosa hut.  Some of you  may have already followed this link - but if not, here is a short video of this amazing new hut in the Swiss Alpine Club system.

It still amazes us that we can get from Bern to high in the mountains in just two hours!  Each train meets the next like Swiss clockwork, and if you have to wait more than ten minutes for a train or a connecting bus you are NOT in Switzerland!  Likewise, if you can't find a sign to the glacier you are probably not in Switzerland either!

Darrell at the Monte Rosa trail sign
We only had to take some lunch, snacks, warmer clothes, and a sleeping bag liner to the hut - so we could travel quite lightly.  The hut included dinner and breakfast as well as a warm bed.  We had crystalline weather and a great view of the Matterhorn for the entire hike.

Cairns help mark the route to the hut
The hut is a little hidden in the picture below.  It is the bluish dot in the center of the photo - in the center of the heart-shaped rock area around it.

Where's the hut?
We rented some crampons in Zermatt and I was happy to have them as we crossed two glaciers on the way to the hut.  Those of you that have hiked with me know I have some fears of heights/falling.  With the crevasses, knife-edge seracs, and impossibly polished rocks we had to climb to get to the hut, it was the most mentally challenging hike I've ever done.  Darrell was a patient saint and always had a hand or a pole ready when I needed extra security.  He never laughed at me, even when I got a crampon tip stuck in my pants that I had stupidly rolled up at the bottom - and ended up landing on my knee (ouch) when I tripped crossing a not-too-big crevasse.

Getting closer to the space-age hut
After getting off the glacier, we climbed a steep path to get to the hut.  Part of the path had anchored ropes that I definitely used.  The "smooth" part was the path up the crest of one of the moraines.

Darrell on the crest of one of the moraines
The final approach to the hut showcases its solar panels and south-facing deck.

Approach to the "hut"
This next picture highlights the view from the hut to the Matterhorn.

The windows follow the staircase on the inside.
The outside is an aluminum skin that expands and contracts with temperature so is not supporting.  The main load-bearing structure, that can be seen inside of the hut, is gorgeous native fir and spruce.  Helicopters lifted 420 prefab wood elements to the site.  The beams and supports in the dining area have computer-aided digital carvings that mimic the rings of a tree.

Here is the view from the dining area where we had dinner.

Recognize the view?
We ate with a wonderful couple from Montreaux, at the north end of Lake Geneva.  We are hoping to visit them later and see some of the area around Lake Geneva.

Our room that night held enough bunks for 10 people, but only six were filled and only one person snored so we did pretty well getting a night's rest.

The view from our bunk
The next morning we walked above the hut with Richard and Michelle to get a higher view down.  They continued on with another glacier hike farther up, and we headed back on the trail towards Zermatt.

Darrell in front of a perched boulder
The hut mimics the peak of the Matterhorn from this angle
The hike back was just as adventurous as the hike there.  Darrell got a picture of me trying to avoid walking on the crest of an ice feature by traversing the face.  Thank goodness for crampons!

Focusing on every step
I was relieved when we got back on terra firma.  We had lunch on the roche moutenee above the present glaciers and got a nice squint-eyed photo of the two of us.

Preview of our holiday photo?
Glacially grooved roche moutenee
The trail back traverses a steep grass-covered slope.  I liked the image of the ice over the landscape here.

The serpentine pattern in the lower ice is from the meltwater running down
As we approached the train station we came across some goats.  I'm not sure what kind they are, but the black and white pattern was striking!

Black and white shaggy herbivores
After looking at magnificent views for so long, I will show you a beautifully tiny plant from this region.  This spider-webby looking plant is called Spinnweben Hauswurz in German and the scientific name is equally descriptive, Sempervivum arachnoideum!  Thanks to Vera for the botanical information!

Exquisite little plant

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Since we haven't gotten out much lately - between work and rain - I am going back to two weeks ago as we were coming "home" to Bern from Germany - and took a detour to Appenzellerland in northeastern Switzerland.

According to our travel books, Appenzellerland is viewed as a "backwards" part of Switzerland.  Named for monks who colonized the area in the 10th century, Abtszell (Abbey's Cell), this region is the least populated of all the Swiss cantons.  It has maintained a quaint, traditional air - which brings in tourists - and the local mountains, the Alpstein, bring in lots of day hikers.

You can see the women in traditional dress here, but the boys in the back left of this photo were the most impressive.  They sport a gold earring over their right ear.  I didn't get closer because they are young guys and I didn't want to embarrass them (or me) by sticking my camera in their faces...

Folks in Appenzell, the main town in the region.
This region is famous for its embroidery and other handcrafts, and we saw some impressive examples of sewing prowess and wood carving in their town museum.  They also get complete television coverage once each year when they hold their Landsgemeinden - an open-air democratic assembly where all citizens over 20 appear personally to cast their votes with raised hands.  Women only got the vote here in 1991, which might be part of why other Swiss see them as a little behind the times...

They do have beautifully painted houses and shops.

Pharmacy with painting of herbs
And they had ornate signs on many of the buildings.  This was my favorite.

Can a sign be more charming?
After touring town briefly, we got on our fifth train of the day (how to get to the hinterlands!), and then took a tram up to Ebenalp in the Alpstein mountains.  We walked up a little farther to get a view and then took the track down to a system of three caves known as Wildkirchli Caves.  They are known for traces of paleolithic Neanderthal bones dating to 30-50 ka, as well as earlier remains of cave bears from around 90 ka.  Some hermits lived in the caves during the 15th to 17th centuries and there is a church alter and seating at one of the cave openings. 

Darrell in front of one of the cave openings
The building on the left in the picture above was a simple wood framed building that had information on the caves and a display with some cave bear bones.  The trail continues along a steep edge and then, surprisingly, you come to a restaurant perched on a ledge of the cliff.  Of course we had to stop for beer!

I think the building leans into the cliff for extra support!
The trail continued downhill, then to a lake and then back down to where the cable car originated.  This charming sign was on the side of a house on the route.

Like a Swiss version of Mayberry RFD
All in all it was a lovely day!  I will leave you with one last view of the area.

There is a path we didn't take, but they call it the barefoot path, because it is so soft and lush.  You can imagine that looking at the green meadow in this image!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bike Rides Revisited!

Both last weekend and then this weekend Darrell and I went on bike rides to areas I had biked to before.  Last weekend it rained like crazy and we ended up taking the train back to town, and this weekend I didn't take any pictures - so I am using my old photos to tell both the new story and reminisce about the older one!

The Aare river begins in the alps and then winds its way across much of Switzerland.  It is dammed just west of Bern and creates a reservoir known as the Wohlensee.  A national bike route goes through Bern and along the Wohlensee so we took the part of it that was close to us.

A swan along the Wohlensee reservoir
The trail doesn't just follow the river but goes up steep hills past farms and through woods.  Even this bridge was built so it was going uphill across a tributary stream.

Notice how a bike can ride up/down this pedestrian bridge!
After an hour of biking you come to an overlook over the dam.

The trail continues on the road that crosses at the dam
We turned around at the viewpoint and headed back to Bern past an apple orchard.  While we have eaten beans and rice, we have decided the least expensive (and most local) foods are the A's, B's, and C's.  So most of our diet is apples (they are in season so free if you can get permission to pick them or find them on the ground before the worms do), Beer, Brats, Bread (the B's are very popular here) and then Cheese and Chocolate.  Pretty much covers it I think!

Crisp, tart, and sometimes free!
Our neighbors at our new apartment have an apple tree and we are in apple heaven right now.  We might get sick of them soon - but they are still a staple for now!

The trail home went through a large woods called Bremgartenwald.  It has some beautifully mossy areas that remind me of Arthurian legends.

Just waiting for Robin Hood and his compatriots!
A special spring, known since medieval times, adds to the timeless quality of these woods.  The spring is known as glasbrunnen and the water in the spring is now piped up through a rock.  I had to look around the other side to make sure a sword wasn't stuck in it...

The water from the spring is supposed to give you strength
Whether the water gives you additional strength or not, it is certainly sold and refreshing.  Some people bike here from Bern to fill up water bottles to take home.

After the older bike ride, I then went to the Slack Line festival they were having at a nearby campground.  I have never seen so many slack lines as I have here.  They had at least 20 set up for the festival and here is one guy who was really good!

He isn't falling - just bouncing from "cheek" to "cheek" on it!
The bike ride Darrell and I took last weekend went to the north of Bern.  There is a nice "small" castle in Jegenstorf that I visited on a sunnier day.  It was POURING rain when we were there so we just huddled under the train station shelter and Darrell never got to see this castle.

The pretty "Schloss" and pond at Jegenstorf
Even worse, Darrell missed the view he could have had on a sunny day.  The mountains in the background are from the Jungfrau region - where we have gone hiking on several past blogs!  Can you recognize the mountains?

Now you see how gorgeous it can be on a clear day!
We don't always get to see the mountains from Bern, but we did see them last Friday night - biking home as it was getting dark.  The snow on the mountains made them shine in the almost full moon.  We didn't have our cameras but I have a lovely mental image I hope I don't lose!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Butterfly Garden at Insel Mainau

Whenever I see a butterfly I think of my good friend Amber.  And so, this post is for her, but if you like butterflies, orchids, or just any kind of wonderful life, this is for you too!

The botanic gardens at Insel Mainau (last post) had a special enclosed area with a butterfly garden.  You had to enter through hanging beads that discouraged the butterflies from leaving their special garden.  A winding path with arched bridges took you through a variety of flowers and shrubs that appealed to many different species of butterfly.  It was warm and moist with a waterfall and a delightful stream as well.

And this is just a small sample of the butterflies there.  They flit so quickly I couldn't get great photos.  It was a wonderful feeling to have them brush right near you as they flew by!

My favorite part though, geek that I am, was the chrysalis display.  If I had more patience I probably could have found one that was ready to emerge - but you will just have to be content with the hanging, and occasionally twitching, chrysalises!

These pictures just show two small sections of the well-labeled rack.  It made me happy to see so much gentle life all in one place.  Viva la butterflies!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gardens at Insel Mainau

Now that I am a working woman again (I have a short-term job helping write science curriculum) I am not gallivanting off into the Swiss mountains or the German countryside on a daily basis any more.  Sigh.  And since blogging about an eight-hour day at the computer isn't very exciting, I might finally catch up on my past adventures.

Today we are going back to Germany.  While Darrell was at his meeting at the University of Konstanz, I got an early start and took the ferry to the other side of the Bodensee (Lake Constance) to see a few more castles (ho hum).

Castle in Meersburg, Germany
I took a long hike through some darling towns, past a lovely vineyard, and then through a dark forest.  It could have been the forest where Hansel and Gretel met the witch, but I'm not sure.  I was definitely looking behind me as I walked!

Blooming windowboxes on the oriel windows 
People who live in the Bodensee area seem inordinately proud of it.  This driveway is tiled in the characteristic shape of the Bodensee!

Not a slug with tentacles, but the shape of the Bodensee!
When I returned to the Konstanz side of the lake I was close to Insel Mainau (Mainau Island) which has an amazing botanical garden that Vera recommended.  They have a very friendly entrance and welcoming flower!

I know you are smiling!
And this one is darling too!
Of course they had a garden in the shape of the (you guessed it) Bodensee!  They also had many gardens devoted to one kind of flower or shrub, such as the dahlias, rhododendrums, etc.  They had an incredible forest at the top of the hill in the middle of the island with Sequoia trees growing on it, as well as many other species.  They even had a large stump of petrified wood from Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona!

My favorite garden was an Italian style waterfall garden.  This picture does not do it justice.  There was water cascading down a long, long series of stone steps with magnificent flowers on both sides.

This garden made me want to sing!
There were also many sculptures, some out in full view and others tucked where only a few people would find them.

Romantic sculpture in a circular pool
Near the Baroque castle on the island, there was a large rose garden.  I am not very fond of roses but it was a pretty intoxicating experience to walk through so many bushes blooming at once!  Another personal favorite was a garden honoring Carolus Linnaeus.  I think it was planted like a blooming calendar but I'm not quite sure as it wasn't translated from the German.  Darrell and I are beginning to understand a little more of what it must feel like to be immigrants that do not speak the language, or even a small sense of what it must be like to be illiterate because the words just look like symbols that don't have any meaning to them.  I've bought a few food items based on the picture on the outside and been fairly surprised when I got home and opened the package!  It is a wonderfully humbling experience to be in another country!

Speaking of humbling, the last two pictures for today illustrate part of their garden that is easily wheelchair accessible.  They had vegetable gardens, flower gardens, places to sit and reflect or have a cup of coffee, and then they also had this interesting wall garden and an accessible water garden.  I found it very inspiring!

Accessible wall garden
Accessible water garden
The next blog will be a short one showing the butterfly garden!  I can still feel their delicate wings fluttering by me as I think about it...