We have combined the next three days into one post as this was an amazing visual journey. Our friends R and J very kindly took a couple of days leave from their business to drive us around central and southern Switzerland.
First stop was Luzern where we walked the Chapel Bridge and through the Old Town. We also walked the Toll Bridge which is a little downstream - no less spectacular (if a little shorter) and less crowded. The Chapel Bridge has been restored from the devastating fire in 1993. In some spots unless you know what you are looking for it would be like nothing had happened. There are beautiful painted panels that depict the history of Luzern. At one end the paintings have been deliberately left charred as a reminder of the fire.
In the Old Town, the painted buildings such as the various Zumpthaus' (Trades Halls) and the old Rathaus (Town Hall) reminded us of Prague.
From Luzern we travelled past the Sarner Zee and over the pass near Giswell. The road climbed up through numerous switchbacks where we dodged cyclists and motor bike riders out for a Sunday ride.
At Interlaken we turned away from the lakes and toward the mountains. Already there was a glimpse of snow capped peaks. We continued up to Grindelwald and spent the evening gazing at the north face of the Eiger. The Finsteraahorn and Jungfrau occasionally poked their heads through the clouds - all of these mountains are at least 4000 meters high.
We stayed in the Grindelwald Youth Hostel. Our double room had a private bathroom. The beds were comfortable and we woke up to this million dollar view. Dinner and breakfast were basic but perfectly acceptable. We highly recommend this Youth Hostel and would return here in a flash.
With clear skies we headed to the Grimselpass. More switchbacks - we climbed up and up to 2164 meters before we were over the top.
It was here the lost property counter ticked over again. As we got out of the car we realised we had left the passports back in the Youth Hostel at Grindelwald. More than a few moments of panic ensued. Much later in the afternoon we contacted the Youth Hostel and got the passports put in safe keeping for us to pick up on another day.
Then we headed down the mountain - switchback after switchback, with some of the corners poking out into mid air. At the bottom we turned up the Fulke pass and headed to the Rhone Glacier. As the name suggests, this is the source of the mighty Rhone River, which flows from here to Geneva and then into France, through Lyon and out into the Mediterranean via the Camargue.
J and R had visited here nearly 30 years ago and were shocked to see how far the glacier had retreated. We explored the inside of the ice grotto which was eerily blue. In the car park we spoke to the Dutch owners of this delightful combination - this is travelling the Swiss Alps in style.
With the better weather there were many more bikers out - both motorised and pedal pushers. Each time we were out of the car you could hear the bikes coming up or down the passes, revving their engines. There is also a public bus which travels all these roads. It gets right of way at the switchback and signals its arrival with a tuneful blast of the horn. We also saw lots of convertibles, including a Ferrari which could be heard from some distance.
We continued to the southern part of Switzerland via the Nufenenpass at 2478 meters (note this is higher than Mount Kosciuszko). We love how at the top of every pass there is a cafe and sometimes even a hotel. It makes stopping at the top worthwhile. Over the top of Nufenen and suddenly everything becomes Italian - the architecture, the town names (for example All'Acqua) the mountain names (for example Poncione di Valleggia) and of course the language. Down, down, down... it is all downhill to Lake Lugano.
At Figino we swam in the lake and looked out across to Italy. We got our swim in just in time as a large thunderstorm swept up from northern Italy. At dinner in Morcote it felt like the dining pontoon was going to be washed away. We eventually took refuge in the main part of the restaurant. The poor waiters were terribly confused as they had lost track of where everyone was sitting.
The next morning we headed back up the mountains toward the Gotthard pass. Our original plan was to drive the old cobblestone road but bad weather made that impractical. Instead we headed through the 16.5 kilometre tunnel (which becomes a bit mind numbing - Roland deserves a gold medal for his driving skills) and then on the other side turned up the Sustenpass.
This road was spectacular as it climbed much more in a straight line up one side of the pass. Towards the top there was another hydro plant as well as three gigantic windmills. Still climbing, we went up passed the windmills and eventually over the top at 2224 meters. R and J had done this road on a motorbike many years ago, so they rekindled lots of happy memories.
Down the other side we went, switchback after switchback and with short tunnels literally hacked out of the hillside. At one point a waterfall flowed over the top of one tunnel and we passed it on the right, then the left and then the right again as the switchbacks guided us down the mountain. There were less motorcyclists out today but we saw a travelling group, filming their ascent from one of the corners. Unfortunately the rider dropped his bike as he stopped and his companions ran over to help him.
We returned to Grindelwald to recover the passports, so the lost property counter has been reset. After a lunch gazing up at the Alps further up the valley at Wetterhorn, we turned for home. We were delighted by the sight of a unicyclist tackling the mountain road - he unfortunately came off as we went past and probably cursed us for the rest of the day ("I would have made it up there without falling off if it weren't for those four people laughing at me!").
We had a lovely three days exploring the Swiss Alps. This was something new for the Navigator and the Navigatrix got to revive some memories from being a ten year old. Even J and R got to relive some of their past and marvelled about how things had changed. We are inspired to come back and do another road trip - a convertible is a necessity, as well as more time to take everything in.
When we returned home, J and R's son took us out in his convertible and we drove through the narrow roads through fields of wheat, corn, sunflowers with the sun lighting up the hills hugging the valley. With the roof down we heard the bells on the cows and the church bells that ring every fifteen minutes. One last family dinner as the sun finally set at 10.30pm.