A Trip to the Transportation Museum – Lucerne

Lucerne is a one hour train trip from Zürich’s Hauptbahnhof. It is an adorable city but this last trip, we skipped old town and the wooden bridges in favor of the transportation museum. The museum was larger than I expected and covered most imaginable forms of transport – trains, planes, cars, cable cars, helicopters, the space station, you name it.

Upside down airplane

The first thing you see in the courtyard outside is 2 Swiss airline planes. After peeking in the propeller plane, go inside the attached building for a look at some of the various planes, like the one above.

Swiss Search and Rescue

Probably the most exciting part of the plane exhibit is the helicopter simulator and airplane simulator. I took my oldest on the helicopter simulator where she piloted the helicopter for 4 minutes. Yes, she did crash a few times but fortunately the helicopter just starts over at the beginning.

Old fashioned chocolate tram

An old tram advertises Cailler, a Swiss chocolate company.

An old hand trolley

In the end, we did not make it to the car exhibit and just lightly covered the boat exhibit. We were there for a total of 5 hours with a little time out for lunch. It just wasn’t enough time. This museum is great for kids or transportation aficionados.

To get to the Verkehrshaus, take bus number 24 from Luzern SBB (5 or 6 stops) or the boat to Lido (1 stop). I recommend taking the boat at least one way. It is covered under the public transportation pass and is only 7 minutes.

The museum is a little pricey but I bought tickets from SBB (the Swiss train system) from Zürich combined with admission and saved 10%. These tickets can be purchased at the Hauptbahnhof’s ticket counter.

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October snow in Züricher Oberland

A couple of weeks ago I decided to dig out my winter boots and winter jackets. Something about the cold mornings, intuition, I am not sure. Whatever the reason, last night the rain turned solid and white as I walked home from the train and this morning I woke to several inches on the ground.

After several cups of hot coffee, I headed to a small town, Greifensee, on the lake with the same name. Greifensee has a small old town and a castle and I wanted to get some photos of the town in the snow.

Flower caught in the snow storm

A flower outside the church in old town Greifensee.

Greifensee during a snow storm

The lake is hardly visible during the snowstorm.

A view of schloss Greifensee from behindWanderweg sign in the snow


Walking path into a nature preserve

The beginning of a walking path into the Greifensee nature preserve.

Icy kayak

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A foggy, cobwebby morning

Fall was very brief this year. A couple of foggy mornings and plants covered with spider webs. By the time I charged my sad camera battery, the fog had melted away but a few spiderwebs still had some dew drops.

Spider web in the bushes

Another spider web in the bushes

parabolic spider web

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Seattle! A trip home

Last week I made the trip all the way to Seattle for my high school reunion. It has been a little over 3 years since I’ve been home and boy have I missed it. The first part of the week, I spent mostly in the University District catching up with friends from graduate school and eating at my favorite restaurants.

For the weekend of my reunion, I stayed downtown. On Sunday morning, I woke up super early – thank you time change! – and took these photos.

Sign at Pike Place Market

The famous Pike Place Market sign in early morning. The stall owners were still setting up and unpacking all teh things.

Someone added details to one of the statues at WestlakeSomeone added detail to a few of the statues in the non-square square next to Westlake mall. The mustache and heart are not original features.

Seattle has a history of decorating people statues around the city. Perhaps the most famous is the group of several people in Fremont that is frequently costumed.

As far as costumes go, the heart and mustache is rather impromptu looking.


Left Bank Books - Pike Place MarketLeft Bank Books is a bookstore in Pike Place Market. Since it was early, the bookstore was still closed, but I did see a display of children’s books in the window. The display had Where The Sidewalk Ends, The Lorax, and The Little Squatters’ Handbook.


Sign for new city Target located by Pike Place Market Target plopped a City Target downtown a few blocks off Pike Place Market. Also closed early in the morning, but the sign showed 3 levels of shopping, including the ground floor full of groceries. Until this City Target appeared, I had to drive north of the city to Northgate for Target goodness. A friend told me the Target is a bit smaller than the suburban Targets but that it has a little bit of everything.

Target is on my list of top 10 things I miss about the good old US of A.

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Atop Zurich’s Grossmuenster Church

A friend and her daughter came to visit so we played tour guide! One of the usual stops when someone visits is Grossmünster church, the Protestant Reform church on the east bank of the Limmat River. For a small fee (4 SFr adults/2 SFr kids), we climbed the circular steps inside the tower of the church to an observation area. Like a lot of things in Europe, it wasn’t the safest climb I have ever done, with a rope used as a handrail for a large portion of the climb.

The view was worth it.

View of Zurich and Limmat from Grossmuenster

A view across the Limmat river of Zurich from the top of the Grossmünster tower.

The building with the large clock belongs to St. Peter’s church and the clock face is the largest church clock face in the world.

Closeup view of one of the Grossmünster towersThe towers that top Grossmünster today are in neo-Gothic style and are a replacement for the wooden steeples that burned down in the 18th century. The groundbreaking for the church began in 1100, purportedly by Charlemagne, so the towers are young by comparison. Still, the combination of wood and stone stairs are obviously old and lack modern day safety concerns.




A view of Bellevue and Zürichsee from the top of Grossmünster

A view of Bellevue and Lake Zurich from the top of Grossmuenster.

Bellevue is a tram stop in Zurich, located where Lake Zurich meets the Limmat River. In the summer, there is often live music on a walking path near Bellevue.

View of Fraumuenster from the top of GrossmuensterAnother view of Zurich with Fraumuenster’s green steeple in the background.

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Daytrip to Rhine Falls – Largest Waterfall in Europe

Last week I headed to Rheinfall as part of an annual work trip, probably my favorite Swiss tradition. Only an hour from Zürich’s hauptbahnhof (main train station), is the town of Schaffhausen. From there, it is a leisurely 3 km walk to the waterfall. Alternatively, the S33 S-Bahn stops at Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall, which puts visitors on the opposite side of the river near the observation station. The day we went was grey and cloudy. It has been raining a lot so the river is spilling more than the usual amount of water over the falls.

A view of the top of Rheinfall, opposite the castle

Schloss Laufen can be seen in the background. This photo was taken level with the top of the waterfall. It does not have as large a drop as Snoqualmie Falls, in my home state of Washington, however the sheer volume makes it quite impressive.

Viewing rock in the middle of the waterfall

On the Schloss Laufen side of the waterfall, visitors can walk down a series of switchbacks to an observation area overhanging the river. Cost is 5 Swiss Francs, payable at the top of the hill. There is also a glass elevator that brings visitors to the bottom.

In the middle of the waterfall stands two large rocks. The one on the right also serves as an observation point with metal steps and a viewing area on top. Right now, the observation area is closed because of the excess water. The dock that the boats land at is slightly underwater.

Observation overhanging the waterfall

The observation point that extends over the water. It really is as close to the waterfall as it looks. This observation area is on the Schloss Laufen side of the river.

Boat side view of the waterfall

Even though the boats couldn’t drop off passengers at the rock in the middle, they could still get pretty close to the waterfall. The mist managed to get under the roof of the boat and on my camera lens. Not a problem, I still managed to get a few good shots of the water.

A few interesting things to mention. A guide told us that the glass elevator from Schloss Laufen to the water level is available for marriage proposals and Sunday champagne breakfasts. The breakfasts are booked two years in advance, despite a several hundred Swiss Franc fee. For the marriage proposals, the elevator is blocked off mid journey – and if the proposee says no, an emergency button can be hit so the couple isn’t stuck in a glass elevator for two hours. I think there is a novel in there somewhere.

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A Few Hours in Zurich

I have a (not so) secret love of travel articles, especially travel articles for where I live. Some articles are good, some not so good, but today’s CNN article, Zurich in a hurry: Make the most of your stopover, made me wonder if the author had ever been to Zurich.

Love the premise of the article. A few hours layover can be a great way for a commitment-phobe to see a European city without dedicating several days and hotel room fees. Tim Hume’s article misses the mark in a few major ways.

Let’s start with getting to Zurich’s main train station (hauptbahnhof) from the airport. The CNN article suggests taking the Glattalbahn tram network. Ignoring the misuse of the term Glattalbahn, if you are only in Zürich for a few hours, do not take the tram. The number 10 tram might leave every 10 minutes or so but it takes a whopping 37 minutes to get to the main train station. Instead, take the longer distance trains that are easily accessible in the basement of the airport for a quick 10 minute ride to the main train station.

The Swiss are among the world’s biggest users of trains, second only to the Japanese, and insist on rail services that are reliably punctual. Zurich’s hyper-efficient Glattalbahn tram network is also invaluable for the time-pressed traveler. The number 10 service runs every seven to 15 minutes and connects Zurich Airport with the city’s centrally located main railway station.

The article moves on to the high cost of Zürich, a topic I wholeheartedly agree on. The ZURICHCard is a good deal with public transit and museums included, but I would be tempted to skip the Kunsthaus museum in favor of the Landesmuseum, also known as the Swiss National Museum. Unless you are a Dada fan, there are better art museums in the world and the Landesmuseum covers time before the Renaissance. Bonus: the Landesmuseum is directly behind the main train station in a 19th century building that is interesting in its own right.

Given that the return train fare from the airport to the city center is 12.80 CHF ($13.80), and the entry to the Kunsthaus, the city’s modern art museum, is 15 CHF ($16.20), even if you only have time for one activity, the card will more than likely pay for itself.

In reference to the bolded, the Kunsthaus is more than a modern art museum, although it does have a large display of modern art. It displays impressionist paintings and Swiss masters as well as contemporary art pieces. Although it is worth a viewing, if one must choose, the winner is the Swiss National Museum. Tip: The Kunsthaus is free on Wednesday.

Moving on to food.

But on a tight time frame, it might make more sense to grab something on the go. Follow the crowds to the Sternengrill — a mobile bratwurst vendor that is a city institution. Other Swiss specialties include soft, baguette-like pretzels loaded with savory fillings — available city-wide from pretzel chain Brezelkönig — and fresh-cooked crepes smeared in apple sauce, which you can pick up from countless roadside vendors.

Sternengrill is an excellent choice for a quick sausage and beer while touring town and is definitely a Zürich standard. It is located near Bellevue tram stop, at the top end of Lake Zürich. It is probably 10 to 15 minutes away from old town on foot, however the 2 or 4 tram will take you right there. It is slightly out of the way, unless you have a bit of extra time to head to the boats, but it does have good sausage.

Scratching my head a little over the roadside vendors selling crepes with applesauce. I have never seen crepes sold by a vendor in Zürich outside a fair or other celebration. If someone knows where to find them, fill me in. My big kid will forever love you.

What The Author Missed

Switzerland is known for its chocolate and Zürich has a number of chocolatieries around the city. Sprüngli is one of the famous high end chocolate shops but Merkur, on Bahnhofstrasse, has a small workspace in the back so visitors can stop and watch chocolate truffles being made.

Neiderdorfstrasse is a long, cobblestone pedestrian street that runs parallel to the Limmat River. Some of the buildings date from before the Reformation and there are plenty of cafes and bakeries to check out. One in particular, Cafe Schober, was recently remodeled but the interior still allows the details of the centuries old building to show through.

Water taxi. The article mentions boats but the majority of the boats are an hour long journey or more. Instead, take the water taxis on the Limmat. Best of all, they are free with a paid public transportation ticket. Check for the initials ZVV, or when in doubt, ask.

In the end, keep an eye on the time. Zürich is a bit bigger than most towns in Switzerland and it is easy to lose track of time. Stereotypes aside, Swiss trains are more punctual than most train systems but Murphy’s Law still rules.

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Labor Day in Italy

May 1st is the labor day, at least in Switzerland and Italy. For me, this meant the day off work and I found myself in Bologna, Italy in the middle of an unexpected (to me) demonstration. First thing that was amiss – police vehicles blocking off the street and police in riot gear lined up.

Police in riot gear following up the protesters

Lagging at the end of the protest were Italian police officers in riot gear.

Despite the riot gear, the protest remained non-violent.

Chiuso! Close!

The Italian word for “close” was spray painted on a number of businesses. May 1 is supposed to be a global strike day and at least in Italy and Switzerland, the majority of businesses are closed.

The No People Mover signs win my “sign of the protest” award. They are protesting a free shuttle from Bologna to the airport that raised the price of bus tickets. For those who are interested, they have a blog (in Italian) aptly named No People Mover.

Chiuso Global Strike - McDonaldsMcDonalds was open despite the calls for a global strike closure spray painted on its windows. Most of the major chains in Bologna were open, as were restaurants, but smaller stores closed for the holiday. H&M was open but devoid of shoppers. McDonalds was not terribly busy at lunchtime with most of the people at the square for the protest.

The march started on a major street in Bologna and wound its way down to the main square in town. Signs were calling for the protesters to take the square. City officials seemed quite willing to give the square up without a fight.

Take the Square sign

Calling for a global strike

The ATM had a sign of protest taped across the screenThe banks took a lot of the protesters’ anger. ATMs had their displays covered with cartoons that called them crooks. Banks had their plate glass windows partially covered with impromptu brick walls. Europe has some anti-Euro sentiment, even in Switzerland which does not use the Euro.

A small group of marching drummers

A small group of marching drummers provided the music for the protest.

After the march to the square was over, most of the groups gathered and continued to wave signs or shout their slogans. I didn’t have much more time in Bologna so a quick trip through the church and old town later and I was on my way back to the train station.

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The Böögg predicts a moderate summer

The Böögg’s head exploded in 12 minutes and 7 seconds, slightly faster than average. According to legend, the faster the Böögg burns, the hotter the summer. The Böögg rests and waits in an open field near the Opera house and is lit at exactly 6 PM when the church bell rings. The Böögg is declared consumed when the head burns up.

Burning the Böögg

After the head explodes and most of the people head home, a few make their way down to the burning remnants and watch, or pose for photos like this random stranger.

Guy in front of burning Böögg

The event ends in a barbecue. Some people bring the Swiss national sausage – cervelat – on a large stick, and roast them the way Americans roast marshmallows. Official looking men with large shovels take ashes and distribute them to party goers sporting portable barbecues or small cleared areas in the muddy ground.

Coals for BBQing sausage

And with the Böögg officially burned and Sechseläuten officially over, spring is here.

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Kinder Fasnacht – Carnival for the Kids

Marching band from Winterthur

Switzerland is a Christian country and every year there are Carnival-like celebrations in major cities, traditionally called Fasnacht. The last year I went to Lucerne for the large Fasnacht parade, which was followed up by parties throughout the city. The Swiss people take Fasnacht very seriously and a large percentage of the parade-goers wear costumes and throw confetti.

My little fairyThis year, I decided to hit a local kinder fasnacht parade in a nearby small town. The kids parade is slightly different because instead of standing on the sidelines and watching, the kids are the parade.

The parade begins on the street next to the bahnhof. Families gather with costumed children and wait for the signal to start. There were all sorts of costumes. Pippi Longstocking is a popular choice but there were also angels, devils, a variety of animals, and my two were a fairy and Superman.

The marching band's elaborate costumesThe parade route follows the main street to the old part of town and stops just before the local castle. This year, the weather was pretty cold and I was envious of the warm looking costumes worn by the marching band. That, and I like red.

After reaching the square next to the castle, the parade broke up. There were tables with glühwein and punsch. Cakes were sold bake sale style. I am pretty sure I saw a few weinerli, the Swiss equivalent of hot dogs, on bread. Since it was so cold, most people went inside a town building where more cake was sold.

Upstairs in the town building, the kids gathered in the confetti covered room for songs, games, and skits performed by older children. After the marching bands ate, they gathered and played very loud music on the ground floor for the adults. All and all, it was a fun time.

Clown shooting confetti cannon

A clown shoots a confetti cannon off a Tintin themed float

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