Travel Series: Biking Across Switzerland, Part II

{Ed. Note: This is Part II of a travel article from Books and Vines Contributor Dlphcoracl. Part I can be seen here. Note that all pictures in the article can be shown in enlarged high resolution format simply by clicking on it. A second click will bring even more resolution and enlargement.}

Day 6: Bern to Gruyeres (48 miles)

Today marks the transition between Swiss-German and French Switzerland and it takes place in the town of Fribourg (photo 35).  We continue along the Saane River and the Lac de Gruyeres, finally arriving in the medieval town of Gruyeres.  Gruyeres has one of Switzerland’s most beautiful castles, the Chateau de Gruyeres, built between 1270 and 1282 (photo 36).  It is also the home of Gruyeres cheese with a small museum and tour in which the cheese-making process can be viewed first hand (photo 37). The town of Gruyeres is nestled in the mountains and it is postcard picturesque, with the castle in the background (photo 38).  The cobblestone Main Street has small restaurants, shops with regional crafts (photo 39), and (surprisingly) the museum of H.R. Giger, the surrealist artist and creator of “Aliens” (photos 40, 41).

Photo 38: Town of Fribourg, transitioning from German to French in Switzerland
Photo 35: Town of Fribourg, transitioning from German to French in Switzerland
Photo 39: Chateau de Gruyeres
Photo 36: Chateau de Gruyeres
Photo 40: Making cheese in Gruyere
Photo 37: Making cheese in Gruyere
Photo 41: The town of Gruyere with Chateau de Gruyere in background
Photo 38: The town of Gruyere with Chateau de Gruyere in background
Photo 42: “What we need is more cowbell!"
Photo 39: “What we need is more cowbell!”
Photo 43: H.R. Giger museum in Gruyere
Photo 40: H.R. Giger museum in Gruyere
Photo 44 : HR Giger Museum
Photo 41 : HR Giger Museum

Day 7: Gruyeres to Morges (45 miles)

Leaving the Canton of Fribourg we ride along the pre-alpine area down to the Grand Lac Leman, a small beautiful lake in southwest Switzerland at its border with France. Eventually we descend into the town of Bourg-en-Lavaux with its terraced vineyards, stopping for a wine tasting (photos 42, 43).  We regrouped in Ouchy for a lunchtime snack on the lake (photo 44) and continued further along the lakeshore until reaching our final destination, the Hotel Mont Blanc au Lac in the beautiful town of Morges (photo 45).  Our cycling group had an outdoor farewell dinner at the hotel later that evening (photos 46).  The following morning the cycling group was greeted by a crystal clear morning before heading to the train station in Geneve to go our separate ways (photo 47).

Photo 41: Descending into the town of Bourg-en-Lavaux
Photo 42: Descending into the town of Bourg-en-Lavaux
Photo 45: Terraced vineyards in Bourg-en-Lavaux
Photo 43: Terraced vineyards in Bourg-en-Lavaux
Photo 46: “Sitting By the Dock of the Bay”. Lunchtime in Ouchy.
Photo 44: “Sitting By the Dock of the Bay”. Lunchtime in Ouchy.
Photo 47: Arriving in the town of Morges
Photo 45: Arriving in the town of Morges
Photo 49: “Why We Ride” - #2
Photo 46: “Why We Ride” – #2
Photo 50: Early A.M. departure from Morges
Photo 47: Early A.M. departure from Morges

Days 8 and 9: A Weekend in Zurich

Although the city of Bern is reputed to be the most beautiful of Switzerland’s larger cities, Zurich is the undisputed financial center.  The Limmat River runs through and divides Zurich en route to emptying into Lake Zurich.  As a result, Zurich has numerous landscapes with water and it is quite a beautiful city in its own right, more so than I had been led to believe.  My hotel was situated one block away from the Limmat River in the Old Town section and was perfectly situated to explore Zurich easily on foot.

There are numerous bridges across the Limmat River, all providing wonderful scenes of the city (photo 48). Walking about the city one is impressed by the diverse array of street musicians, not the usual street fare one finds in most large cities (photos 49, 50).  My first order of business was to spend a day walking along the Bahnhofstrasse down to Lake Zurich to take a boat ride on the lake.  The Bahnhofstrasse is home to Zurich’s most exclusive shopping with many of the world’s most famous clothiers and jewelers located on this street (photo 51).  The Bahnhofstrasse begins, appropriately enough, at Zurich’s Bahnhof (Train Station, Photo 52). The bronze statue in front honors Alfred Escher, a mid-19th century politician who was instrumental in establishing Switzerland’s infrastructure – trains, universities, banking system – that enabled tiny Switzerland to connect with and thrive amidst its larger European neighbors (e.g., Germany, France, Italy). Atop the triumphal arch which forms the entry to the train station are three female figures.  The central figure is Helvetia, an important symbol of Switzerland and the symbol of the Swiss confederation.  She is flanked by the goddesses of river travel and rail travel.

Photo 51: Looking down the Limmat River from a crossing bridge, Zurich (Switzerland).
Photo 48: Looking down the Limmat River from a crossing bridge, Zurich (Switzerland).
Photo 52: Street musicians
Photo 49: Street musicians #1
Photo 54: Classy street musicians in Zurich - #2
Photo 50: Classy street musicians in Zurich – #2
Photo 55: A bit of “bling” - Swiss style
Photo 51: A bit of “bling” – Swiss style
Photo 56: Entrance to Zurich Hauptbahnhof with stature of Alfred Escher.
Photo 52: Entrance to Zurich Hauptbahnhof with stature of Alfred Escher.

Directly behind the train station is one of Zurich’s most important museums, the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum).  The museum is located within a Neo-Gothic castle (photo 53) and a visit is essential to understanding Switzerland’s one-thousand year old history, with particular emphasis on the Protestant Reformation and Switzerland’s development and evolution into a modern, thriving state throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.  Early adoption of compulsory education for all children (photo 54) and development of outstanding technical universities (photo 55) enabled Switzerland to become an economic powerhouse with a solid manufacturing base and technical expertise, surprisingly so for a country its size.

The Bahnhofstrasse eventually leads to Lake Zurich where one is greeted by the famous statue of Ganymed, the son of a handsome king who was abducted by Zeus and taken to Mount Olympus (photo 56).  His outstretched hand is said to symbolize the longing of mankind to ascend Mount Olympus and it shows Ganymed pleading for Zeus, depicted here as an eagle, to take him there.  The day was clear and the boat ride on Lake Zurich showed the city from a different perspective (photo 57).

Photo 57: Schweizerisches Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum).
Photo 53: Schweizerisches Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum).
Photo 58: School class, 1867
Photo 54: School class, 1867
Photo 59: Civil engineering students at the Swiss Polytechnic College (now known as ETH Zurich), 1864. Students came from Russia, Norway, Hungary and Switzerland.
Photo 55: Civil engineering students at the Swiss Polytechnic College (now known as ETH Zurich), 1864. Students came from Russia, Norway, Hungary and Switzerland.
Photo 60: Statue of Ganymed at Lake Zurich
Photo 56: Statue of Ganymed at Lake Zurich
Photo 61: View of Lake Zurich from cruise boat
Photo 57: View of Lake Zurich from cruise boat

The following day I continued my exploration of Zurich by visiting its most famous churches.  The church closest to my hotel was the Wasserkirche (“water church”), built on a small island in the Limmat River (photo 58).  It is the least physically imposing of the famous churches, originally constructed in the 10th century with complete reconstruction completed in 1486.  Following the Protestant Reformation it was secularized and it became the first public library of Zurich in 1634, a cultural center that was the inspiration for the construction of the University of Zurich in the 19th century.  Directly behind my hotel is the imposing Grossmuenster with its massive twin towers (photo 59).  Supposedly founded by Charlemagne in the 12th century, it is built over the burial grounds of Zurich’s patron saints.  The Grossmuenster was the center of the Protestant Reformation in Zurich, led by reformer Huldych Zwingli.  The church interior features 12th century Romanesque architecture with a series of massive arches giving it a noble simplicity.  In the front of the church are three stained glass windows by Augusto Giacometti (photo 60).  For a small fee one can climb the winding staircase (187 steps) to the top of the Karlstrum, within one of the twin towers, affording superb aerial views of Zurich (photos 61, 62).

Taking the nearest bridge over the Limmat River leads directly to (arguably) the most beautiful and famous of Zurich’s churches,  Fraumuenster Abbey, founded in 853 by Louis II (Ludwig, or Louis the German) as a Benedictine convent for female members of the aristocracy (photo 63).  The church has a graceful appearance with harmonious proportion and a slender copper-green steeple.  The interior is distinguished by its stained glass windows: those in the north transept are by Augusto Giacometti (photo 64) and the five-part cycle in the chancel and rosette in the southern transept by Marc Chagall.  The five windows depict different stories from the Bible, each with a different dominant color (see here).

Photo 62: The historic Wasserkirche (“Water-church”), Zurich, on Limmat River. Statue of reformer Huldrych Zwingli to the left.
Photo 58: The historic Wasserkirche (“Water-church”), Zurich, on Limmat River. Statue of reformer Huldrych Zwingli to the left.
Photo 63: The Grossmuenster with massive twin towers. This is a visual landmark throughout Zurich.
Photo 59: The Grossmuenster with massive twin towers. This is a visual landmark throughout Zurich.
Photo 64: Stained glass windows by Augusto Giacometti in the Grossmuenster church.
Photo 60: Stained glass windows by Augusto Giacometti in the Grossmuenster church.
Photo 65: View #1 of Zurich from top of tower, Grossmuenster church.
Photo 61: View #1 of Zurich from top of tower, Grossmuenster church.
Photo 66: View #2 - from top of the Grossmuenster church tower
Photo 62: View #2 – from top of the Grossmuenster church tower
Photo 67: Fraumuenster Abbey
Photo 63: Fraumuenster Abbey
Photo 68: Stained glass windows by Augusto Giacometti in the Fraumuenster Abbey
Photo 64: Stained glass windows by Augusto Giacometti in the Fraumuenster Abbey

For a respite I wandered over to the Lindenhof, a park situated on a hill  in the oldest part of the city.  The name is derived from the numerous Linden trees planted throughout the park, providing dense shade from even the hottest days (photo 65).  In ancient times the Romans built a citadel on top of the hill to defend the region from the Celtics and this fortification was continued and expanded through the Carolingian era. However, in the 13th century the townspeople destroyed the fort and forbid construction of new fortifications at this site.  Today it is a people’s park where one can find a friendly game of chess (photo 66) or simply enjoy the commanding views of Zurich from this site (photos 67, 68).  Both of Zurich’s great universities can be seen side by side from Lindenhof; the University of Zurich is identified by its large dome with copper-green cupola whereas the rectangular, brown, industrial-looking building is the world famous “ETH” (Eidgenossiche Technische Hochschule), often referred to as “the Swiss M.I.T.” (photo 69).  The ETH is a university specializing in science, mathematics, engineering and management and it boasts twenty-one Nobel Prize winners amongst its students or professors in its past, the most famous of whom is Albert Einstein (1921) and Wilhelm Roentgen (1901) who produced and detected electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength range known as “X-ray”, a discovery that revolutionized medical diagnosis at that time.  The graduates from the ETH are a major factor in the scientific and technical expertise Switzerland is noted for, quite unusual for a small country.  Simply put, Switzerland “makes things” and they do so with exceptional design and quality which can be seen throughout the country in its infrastructure and transportation systems.  Switzerland is also noted for its pharmaceutical industry.  The Lindenhof is also noted for its statue commemorating the brave women of Zurich during its defense in 1292 (photo 70).  It was atop the Lindenhof that the women of Zurich defended the city from a Hapsburg invasion while the men were away, engaged in another battle.  By donning armor and waving pikes they tricked the invaders into thinking that Zurich was heavily fortified and the Hapsburg invaders called off the siege.

Photo 69: Lindenhof Park with Hedwig fountain
Photo 65: Lindenhof Park with Hedwig fountain
Photo 70: A spirited game of chess in Lindenhof Park
Photo 66: A spirited game of chess in Lindenhof Park
Photo 71: View of the Grossmuenster church and mountains from Lindenhof Park
Photo 67: View of the Grossmuenster church and mountains from Lindenhof Park
Photo 72: View of Zurich and Limmat River from the Lindenhof. The famed ETH Zurich University (brown rectangular building) is in the right-center of the photo.
Photo 68: View of Zurich and Limmat River from the Lindenhof. The famed ETH Zurich University (brown rectangular building) is in the right-center of the photo.
Photo 73: Close-up of ETH Zurich University with the dome of University of Zurich directly behind.
Photo 69: Close-up of ETH Zurich University with the dome of University of Zurich directly behind.
Photo 74: Hedwig fountain and statue in the Lindenhof, commemorating the defense of Zurich by its women in 1292.
Photo 70: Hedwig fountain and statue in the Lindenhof, commemorating the defense of Zurich by its women in 1292.

My overall impression of Switzerland is that its average citizen enjoys one of the highest standards of living anywhere in the world.  Unlike my cycling tour through similar-sized Belgium last year, I spent time in several of the country’s largest cities (two days apiece in Bern and Zurich).   I did not see any signs of the homelessness, poverty, etc., that are found in nearly every large city to some extent.  It is the easiest country to travel in that I have visited whether criss-crossing regions or moving fluidly within its cities.  Surprising to me, Switzerland has extensive farming and agriculture throughout the country, with produce of the highest quality coming from their meticulously maintained farms.  The number and extent of vineyards and winemaking in Switzerland were also a bit surprising to me.  Since it borders Germany, I was not surprised to find white wines of excellent quality but WAS surprised to find excellent red wines as well.  These are rarely, if ever, exported out of the country however.  Communication and language were never a problem since many Swiss are multi-lingual, with English, German, French and Italian all spoken to varying degrees.  At all transportation centers signs and directions are prominently given in English as well as German/French and most (all?) ATMs and ticket machines at train stations have instructions available in multiple languages. Simply put, a very enjoyable cycling tour and hassle-free experience.

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