Saturday, February 21, 2015

Travel? Why Not! Swiss Mountain Hotels

The trigger for this travel post was the gift of this book from The Eldest for Christmas. I had first seen this book on a Saturday ramble in the City and mentioned it in the post. So either she reads my blog, I am totally transparent when it comes to travel, trains and Switzerland or it was just a coincidence. I'm voting B.
The book is about Mr. Bewes' duplication of one of the earlier Thomas Cook Travel tours to Switzerland taken by a Miss Jemima. The book has taken me so long to read because I can barley go a page with out whipping out the iPad and looking up the location he is traveling through. Either he is someplace we have been or some place that seems interesting. Then I get lost in traveling through Switzerland via the magic of the internet.

With inspiration from Miss Jemima and Mr. Bewes, I have laid out a trip in one of my favorite countries and all lodging is at altitude (mountain hotels) or off the beaten path. Be forewarned, the hotels are pricy.

NYC to Zurich: 8 hours non-stop flight
Rail legs:
Zurich to Luzern: 50 minutes 0 changes
Lucern to Lake Brienz: 90 minutes 0 changes
Interlaken Ost to Kandersteg: 70 minutes 1 change at Spiez
Leukerbad to Zermatt: 30 minute bus ride to Leuk, 11 minutes Leuk to Visp, 70 minutes Visp to Zermatt
Zermat to Chur: 5 hours 0 change via the shortened Glacier Express.
Chur to Zurich Airport: 1 hour 40 minutes change at Zurich Main Station

While the price of the above legs may be less than the cost of a Swiss Pass, the Swiss Pass can be used on all trains, buses and boats in the System and also provides discounted travel on most Mountain conveyances and provides free access to over 400 museums. Biggest savings by buying a Swiss Pass is time and worry, no waiting for a ticket or wondering which ticket to get, get on a mode of transportation and off you go. Reservations are required for some travel.

Zurich Largest City in Switzerland, on a lake, lots of museums to chose from
    Hotel: UTO Kulm 4 star Hotel at 871m/2857 feet, U10 from the Zurich Main Train Station to Uetliberg station, then a 7 minute walk. The hotel is in a car free zone. There are also 2 restaurants within walking distance, Berggasthaus Uto-Staffel and Restaurant Gmuetliberg in addition to one in the hotel.

    Luzern on Lake Luzern
    • Glacier Garden, nearby is the famous Lion Statue.
    • Swiss Museum of Transport
    • Richard Wagner Museum 
    • Mount Pilatus, accessible via a cable car from Kriens or the steepest cog railway from Alpnachstad which runs May to November. A Silver Round trip ticket takes you from Luzern up to the top and back using both modes of transportation. The order you choose is up to you.
    • Mount Rigi 1798m, more built up than Mt. Pilatus.
    Hotel: 2 Hotels at 2132 meters/6994 feet. Hotel Pilatus-Kulm starting around $200US, price per person includes 4 course dinner and breakfast buffet.  Hotel Bellevue starts around $150US,  per person includes 3 course dinner and breakfast buffet.

    Brienz A pretty Swiss town on Lake Brienz
    Hotel: Mountain Lodge Rothorn Kulm at 2266 meters/7434 feet. The Brienz Rothorn Railway can be used to get to the top, alternatively the cable car from Sorenberg could be taken. Hotel rooms start at $85USpp, provide breakfast and the use of shared facilities. Sinks with hot and cold are provided in the rooms. Sounds spartan compared to the previous lodging. There is also a restaurant at the top,  Mountain Restaurant Rothorn Kulm.

    If the Rothorn Mountain Lodge is not to your liking, the Grand Hotel Giessbach [official site] might be the ticket. Don't expect to share a toilet here and while it is not really at altitude, I'm sure it has plenty of attitude. Rooms start at $210US per person per night, breakfast buffet included. Accessible by boat from Brienz, just 11 minutes and while you are here, you can also see the falls.

    After visiting the Geissbach falls take the boat to Interlaken Ost and then the funicular to Harder Kulm (1322m/4337feet) for lunch at the Harder Kulm Panorama restaurant. The funicular is a short walk from the Interlaken Ost stations.

    Another Mountain Hotel in the area, The Hotel Schynige Platte  at 2076m/6811 feet is $250US a night for a double and includes 5 course dinner and breakfast buffet. There is also a restaurant and an Alpine Garden. Access to the hotel is from the Interlaken Ost station, using the Bernese Oberland Railway, changing at Wilderswil to the Schynige Platte Railway.

    Kandersteg Lots of outdoorsy things to do around here.
    This will not be the easiest day. After arriving in Kandersteg you could walk 20 minutes or take a bus to the Sunnbuel cable car. This takes you up to the pass. There is a restaurant there (Sunnbuel Mountain Restaurant) and our destination is an hour and a half walk from the top station of the cable car. The hotel is in the pass not on a mountain top but is still at 2061 meters/6761 feet. The Hotel Schwarenbach is $120US per person for a double which includes a 4 course dinner and breakfast. The next morning you need to walk about an hour and a half towards the Gemmipass Cable car. You will pass the Daubensee, a mountain lake in the pass and there is a cable car near the lake that will take you up to the cable car that will take you down to Leukerbad. There is a yet another restaurant and the Wildstrubel Mountain Hotel at the Gemmi-Leuker cable car top station. The village of Leukerbad at the lower station is the largest thermal spa resort in the alps. If you're a bit sore, you could take a soak there.

    Zermatt Another outdoor paradise and Home of the Matterhorn
    • Matterhorn Museum
    • Gorner Gorge, 30 minute walk from the train station, signposted 
    • Main mountain areas
      • Gornergrat 3089m
      • Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, highest cable car station in Europe at 3883m
      • Rothorn 3103m
      • Sunnegga 2288m, the funicular up is inside the mountain, swimming in summer at Leisee
    Riffelalp [site] 5 Star Hotel at 2222m/7290ft. Accessed via the Gornergrat Railway. Rooms start at $460US per night including breakfast

    Riffelhaus [site] Located at 2500m/8202ft. Double Room rate of $315US includes 4 course dinner and breakfast. Access also via the Gornergrat Railway.

    Gornergrat Hotel [site] Located at the top terminus of the Gornergrat railway at 3100m/10170ft. Rooms come with 4 course dinner and breakfast starting at $480US.

    The Glacier Express continues on from here to St. Moritz arriving in 2 hours and there are even more bridges and aqueducts to cross if you were to continue. The city of Chur has many magnificent buildings and churches and a few museums.
    • Chur's local mountain Brambruesch is a easy cable car ride from the city. There are mountain restaurants on top and some offer rooms.
    • The railway to the Mountain village of Arosa at 1800m on the Rhaetian Railway takes an hour.
    Next stop Zurich airport and home
    Swiss Army knives
    Watches with complications

    Sunday, February 15, 2015

    What a Tart

    is the name of a cocktail in the book Winter Cocktails by Maria Del Mar Sacasa and Tara Striano. The Eldest gave me the book for Christmas and I have been mulling and toddying ever since. The current cold snap has certainly provided the need for warm comforting drinks. I mainly use the recipes as a baseline and go from there.

    So "What a Tart" contains is apple cider, AppleJack (I use Lairds, it's made in NJ), lemon juice, lemon zest, grated ginger, cinnamon and mace. Very tasty, the book's comment about the drink is "a pie in a glass". This one is not hot but the next ones are.

    Basic Hot Toddy = hot water, alcohol, honey, lemon. They also included an AppleJack Toddy variant which is cinnamon tea, AppleJack and maple syrup which is very good indeed.

    My Hot Toddy variant is Yorkshire Tea, Crown Royal Maple finished Whisky and maple syrup. Reminds me of my childhood... it smells like Maypo. I had Maypo awhile back, but it was not as good as I remember it being. I'm not advocating The Royal Canadian Hot Toddy for breakfast, but it does taste good. I did a post on the Crown Royal Maple Whisky here.

    Hot Buttered Rum = hot water, dark rum, 1 tablespoon butter (unsalted if possible), brown sugar, dash of vanilla, pinch cinnamon and mace(if you have it). I have always heard of the Hot Buttered Rum, but never felt compelled to try one until now. They are actually good.

    Current Blooms:
    We have Snow drops open under the snow and the the Lemon tree is now in bloom, it is very pretty and smells sweet. Can't wait for our one lemon to arrive.

    Meet The Estate Staff:
    Gunther Befestigen, Handyman. Originally from Bavaria.
    This weekend he replaced the stove's center stainless steel blanking plate with a pair of hand forged, cast iron, porcelain coated filler grates. Each grate is held up and leveled by 4 screws. The process of leveling the grates seemed trivial to me, but it took him quite some time and a lot of tools and measuring devices. I don't know any German, but I think I may have heard some swearing, of course since German is a guttural language he may have been singing a Lullaby.  Besides Blacksmithing, Gunther appears to have an interest in building tank models in bottles and is a member of a German Actuarial Society, DAR. I think, I don't read his mail, but I do look at the envelopes. He also makes working a Gingerbread Coo-coo clock each Advent season and ships it to his sister Helga who has a Bed & Breakfast in Avebury, England. He does not do car windows either. We are still searching.

    Beers in the Fridge:
    The cupboards are bare. Nothing to see here.

    Though I did open a bottle of Port received at Christmas from The Eldest's beau.
    Coincidence was that The Young One also gave me a bottle Port by the same firm. 

    Saturday, February 7, 2015

    That's Entertainment

    Some entertainers I enjoy watching or listening to.

    The Jam
    That's Entertainment

    Keith Floyd, Official site [here]
    One of the earliest English celebrity chefs. He traveled to different countries and cooked local dishes out in the open or in people's homes having a slurp or two of wine along the way. He was very entertaining and you learned quite a lot about the countries in which he was in. I wrote a post after his death here.

    I only saw his series "Floyd on France" on TV, but he has many other series covering other parts of the world. Some can be seen on youtube. I also have a book by him about hangovers. He had a show about French wines in which he told the viewers which wines would be on the next show so that the audience could participate (read drink) along.

    Alan Watts, Official sites run by his son [here] and [here]
    English philosopher known to talk about Zen Buddhism, taught in San Francisco and gave talks on KPFA.
    The creators of South Park created some Alan Watts cartoons, you can find these on youtube as well as other audio and videos of talks by Alan Watts. I have a few of his books. He is a pleasure to listen to.

    Chris Whent, Here of a Sunday Morning  [here]
    Has an early music show on Sunday mornings on WBAI 99.5 FM from 9-11AM. I would force the kids to listen to the show as we drove to the house of worship that I was also forcing upon them. I extracted much enjoyment from this, the kids not so much.

    Doug Henwood, Official sites [here] [here]
    Economist with a viewpoint quite different from that of the Fair and Balanced.
    Mr. Henwood edits LBO, a newsletter he founded in 1986, He also hosts Behind the News, a weekly radio show covering economics and politics on KPFA, Berkeley, that is rebroadcast on several other stations across the U.S.

    Malachy McCourt [here]
    Radio presenter on WBAI 99.5 FM [TalkBack], ran for governor of NY State in 2006 on the Green Party ticket. I haven't caught him lately, I like his accent, but not always his politics.

    Dick Cavett Who hasn't he interviewed? Here is a short list of guests he interviewed on the Dick Cavett show. He also writes for the New York Times. Here is a piece in which he mentions his friend Malachy McCourt.

    Alec Baldwin, He does a podcast called "Here's the thing" [here]. Not my favorite actor, but he has changed my opinion of a few personalities during his interview of them. I wonder if he is good enough to change my opinion of Mr. Putin.

    Sunday, January 18, 2015

    Transom Part 1

     Plans to let more light into the back hallway have begun. The plaster and lathe were removed from the stairwell side of the dividing wall. Now just need to determine the dimension I want the opening to be. It is not a load bearing wall so that makes it easier. Hard part will be cleanly cutting through the plaster and lathe and keeping the cracks and chips to a minimum. Had been looking a long time for a stained glass window or fragment to insert here, but have not found one that was suitable.

    Meet the Estate Staff:
    Gina Pedonale, the Chauffeur. We met Gina in Lugano, Switzerland, she had just concluded her term of employment with an Italian banker's family and was in need of a new situation. Unfortunately, the father had decided to take the family for a drive while Gina was on holiday, they got lost and while the husband was on the phone with Gina, there was a miscalculation and the family no longer needed a chauffeur. In addition to knowing her way around a Ferrari V12 engine, she restores vintage Berkel Prosciutto meat slicers, makes a excellent espresso and knits car covers as a hobby. Our only complaint is that she doesn't do car windows.
     This is the only know photo of Gina. This was taken moments before Gina's holiday had been extended indefinitely.

    Beers in the Fridge:
     Bought a beer specific glass mug at the Cheap Chinese Tchotchke shop, aka The Christmas Tree Shop. The Eldest gave me a Moleskein Beer log for Christmas and it shows different glasses to be used for different types of beers. Unfortunately, this style is not listed, but it is similar to a British dimpled beer mug.
     Finished up the Guinness which our neighbor brought over for Thanksgiving. The Winter Lager is still from thanksgiving also, I bought a case for some reason and hardly anyone drank beer. Had the Peroni with pasta Friday night and haven't yet cracked the cider. The cider and the Guinness both fit on the shelves in the new fridge, any taller bottle needs to find space on the door.
    Received this liter mug for Christmas, reminds me of our family trip to Munich.
    One beer gets lost in it, but you get quite a workout drinking with it.

    Wednesday, January 7, 2015

    Sunday, December 28, 2014

    Travel? Why Not! More Scotland, The Western Highlands

    I'm thinking that if I could re-choose my nationality (yes, we are given that choice as our souls are being embedded into a fetus just prior birth. Most people have forgotten, I am not most people) I might choose Scottish. The countryside is gorgeous, they make Whisky, have a town called Keith and they have one of Britain's most scenic train journeys, the West Highland Line.

    Travel times
    7-8 hours: NYC to LHR
    Overnight: London to Fort William Scotland by Caledonian Sleeper
    90 minutes: Fort William to Mallaig, ferry terminal to Isle of Skye
    30 minutes: Mallaig to Armadale, Skye by ferry, few departures
    100 minutes: Uig, Skye to Tarbert, Isle of Harris
    2.5 hours: Stornaway, Isle of Lewis to Ullapool, mainland Scotland
    80 minutes: Ullapool to Inverness
    1 hour: Inverness to Keith
    4 hours: Keith to Stirling via Aberdeen
    1 hour: Stirling to Edinburgh
    4.5 hours: Edinburgh to London

    Travel by Train
    Whisky Distillery tours
    Edinburgh Whisky Experience if you don't have time to get thee to a distillery

    The highest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevis is located outside Fort William
    Mallaig a fishing port once famous for supplying kippers to the world
    • a steam train from Ft. William to Malliaig, stops at Glenfinnan.
    • ferry to Skye
    Skye Official, Not official
    Close to Skye over a bridge is the small town of Kyle of Lochalsh and near that is the quite famous Eilean Donan Castle.

    Outer Hebrides
    The Isles of Harris and Lewis are actually one island, the northern portion is referred to as the Isle of Lewis and the southern part is referred to as the Isle of Harris.
    Isle of Harris non official website
    Isle of Lewis, non official website
    • Neolithic standing stones
    • Museum nan Eilean in Stornaway to be located in Lews Castle in 2015
    Inverness Environs
    And back to London where I always find more to see.

    • Whisky
    • Harris Tweed vest and maybe a hacking jacket
    • wool sweaters
    • Heather items

    Sunday, December 7, 2014

    2014 Books

    This year's book list. The (r) denotes a repeat read.
    1. Carte Blanc, Jeffery Deaver; January; A James Bond Novel; Very good, worth reading, but he's no Ian Flemming.
    2. Death of a Policeman, M.C. Beaton; February; Policeman Hamish Macbeth in the Scottish Highlands, aging formulaic series, but still enjoyable. There was a TV series in the late 1990s staring Robert Carlyle as Hamish.
    3. Night Train to Lisbon(r), Pascal Mercer; April; Language Professor meets Portuguese woman in peril, buys Portuguese book, becomes intrigued by the author, takes train to Lisbon and searches for the back story of the authors life. He travels by train, what more could you ask for. The story of the fictional author's life is compelling as are most of the characters. They made a film of the book, the reviews are not good so don't see it before reading the book... or after.
    4. Bryant and May on the Case, Christopher Fowler; May; Quirky Detectives investigating odd cases in London.
    5. Rosanna, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo; May; First of 10 Martin Beck (a fictional Swedish Police Detective) stories by a Swedish pair written in the 1960s. All the books were very quick reads. Mainly teamwork, hard work, experience and some luck solve these cases. Interestingly, in the 1960s the Swedish Police were acquiring Military hardware and once they had it were itching to use it no matter if there were other ways to solve an issue. Start with #1 and read them all.
    6. The Man who went up in Flames, #2 Maj and Per; June
    7. The Man on the Balcony, #3 Maj and Per; June
    8. Naughty in Nice, Rhys Bowen; June
    9. The Laughing Policeman, #4 Maj and Per; June
    10. The Grand Tour, Agatha Christie; June - September; Postcards and letters from Ms Christie's travel with the Overseas Mission of the British Empire Exhibition. Most interesting thing I learned was she became an accomplished surfer. The difficulties of travel makes me glad for the improvements that have been made in that respect.
    11. Travels with my Aunt(r), Graham Greene; July; I read this every summer. Aunt Agusta (his aunt) is quite amusing, there was a movie with Maggie Smith as the Aunt, miss it.
    12. Hunt for the Southern Continent, James Cook; July; Abridged excerpts of the log book of his travels in the South Pacific, he sails past Staten Island, but not the forgotten borough of NYC. He includes technical bearings and headings which I looked up on the internet to understand.
    13. Trains and Lovers, Alexander McCall Smith; July;
    14. Monsieur Pamplemousse Aloft(r), Michael Bond of Paddington Bear Fame; July; The fifth in the series, all are quick reads and geared towards adults. Monsieur Pamplemousse always seems to gets himself into lots of embarrassing situations while trying to help others.
    15. The Fire Engine that Disappeared, #5 Maj and Per; July 
    16. Murder at the Savoy, #6 Maj and Per; August
    17. The Abominable Man, #7 Maj and Per; 2 days in August
    18. The Locked Room, #8 Maj and Per; August
    19. Cop Killer, #9 Maj and Per; August
    20. The Terrorists, #10 Maj and Per; August
    21. The Grave Maurice, Martha Grimes; August
    22. Scrambles amongst the Alps(r), Edward Whymper; September; An interesting travelog of his attempts up Alps and the first ascent by him of the Matterhorn in Switzerland.
    23. The Restraint of Beasts(r), Magnus Mills; September; An Englishman leads a pair of Scots south of the border to put up fencing and bury bodies.
    24. Rising to the Occasion, Hazard and Pinfold; October
    25. The Great American Weekend book; October; Just browsed through it
    26. Turn Right at Machu Picchu, Mark Adams; November; See the end of this post for a synopsis.
    27. Return of the Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett; November; Screenplays for 2 more Thin Man movies staring Nick and Nora Charles. Some interesting stage directions. TCM movie synopsis for After and Another. Mr. Hammett also wrote the novel, The Maltese Falcon.