Innsbruck to Lyon
After saying goodbye for what seemed 100 times this morning to our fellow travelers on the ship, we caught our train to Innsbruck. As our last train trip was a bit of a disaster, we were very pleased that we could store our large bags close to where we were sitting, and our backpacks were stored on see-through luggage racks above our heads. It was a rainy morning, and it was still wet when we arrived in Innsbruck. Nevertheless, we ventured out from our nice, and seemingly roomy hotel room (compared to our small ship cabin), and walked around the town. The most breathtaking thing about the town was the large, snow- and mist-covered mountain towering over it. We are not used to such high mountains, so it was very impressive to us. One disappointing aspect of our visit here was that we could not visit Swarovski’s Crystal World as it is undergoing renovations, and this was the main reason for our stop here. They have, however, set up a retail outlet in the town, so I could still spend some time, and money, there. We saw some of the lovely sights of Innsbruck, including some good views of the mountain and had dinner at a lovely Austrian restaurant before returning to our hotel for the night.
The next morning it was still raining steadily and the mountain was hidden by even more mist than the day before. Again we walked back into town to make some Swarovski purchases, and as it was raining we had to keep going into shops and spending money. We collected our luggage and made it to the train station in good time for our train to Bregenz. This train had 6-seat mini-cabins, and there were already 3 people in our cabin, two with luggage. This made it a very difficult to maneuver ourselves and our two very large bags, plus backpacks, into this very small area. The other people were Austrians, and were very accommodating, helping Ian to lift our very heavy bags up into the luggage racks, which thankfully were big enough to hold them. Our co-travelers were very nice, and tried to point out items of interest to us although their English was very poor. It was more like a game of charades. The railway ran through the valley of a huge mountain range, and we could not take our eyes off these high snow-covered peaks and the lovely villages of chalet-type houses on the hill sides. This landscape is really stunning.
Fortunately, after our rainy departure from Innsbruck, the weather improved for our visit to Bregenz. Our hotel was mercifully within walking distance of our hotel and after we checked in, we walked over to the beautiful Lake Constance, which was right next to us. There is a water pontoon stage in the lake unlike anything I have ever seen before. I have attached some photos because it is hard to describe, but it is like an elaborate set that you would see in a large theatre, but it is out in the open and on the water. On the land not far from the pontoon stage there are many rows of tiered seating for the audience. It is certainly a spectacular and unique concert venue, and the annual summer music event Bregenzer Festspiele is a world-famous festival which takes place on and around the stage on Lake Constance, where a different opera is performed every second year. Apparently, Elton John has performed there. Lake Constance is massive and very beautiful, and the town of Bregenz is a mixture of old and new. It was a peaceful little town, whose residents come out in force at the end of the day to walk their dogs, ride their bikes, jog and keep pace with their walking and exercise groups.
The next morning we took a cable car ride to the top of the Pfänder Mountain in Bregenz. It is a fairly steep ride, travelling 1064 metres in 7 minutes, and it provides fantastic views of Bregenz, Lake Constance and the surrounding valleys and mountains. Due to time constraints though, we could not spend a lot of time at the top. There is a choice of walking tracks there, and many of our fellow travelers were taking off on mountain walks with their special alpine walking poles.
We then made our way to Bregenz railway station to catch the two trains to get us to Chur (pronounced Caw) in Switzerland. The train ride was very pleasant and our luggage was in sight at all times. Our hotel room was nice and roomy, and was located close to Brambrüesch Mountain, a great place for hiking, mountain biking and paragliding during the warmer months, and skiing and snowboarding during the winter. We spent the afternoon exploring Chur's Old Town, full of cobblestone alleys, fountains and secret courtyards, and home to the city's beautiful cathedral, constructed between 1151 and 1272. Chur is Switzerland's oldest city and has a 5000-year history, documented by Early Stone Age and Bronze Age finds and artifacts from the Roman period, as well as more recent history such as the 800-year-old Cathedral. Today, Chur is a commercial centre and capital of a large region. We also got lost (again!), and ended up walking around for nearly 3-hours before we found our way back to the centre of town. We had a relaxed drink or two at a tavern before having dinner and then went back to the hotel for the night.
The following morning we caught the Glacier Express train to Zermatt. The train was comfortable and had huge panoramic windows to give us the best view possible of the passing scenery. The temperatures in Switzerland have been unseasonably mild, so the snow had melted on all but the peaks of the mountains. We passed through quaint little villages perched on mountain sides, picturesque forests and incredible mountain views. We travelled for 5½ hours, but the time went by really quickly because we were so engrossed in what we were looking at. It is so very different from anything we have seen in Australia. At our destination, Zermatt, we found our way to our lovely hotel and after we settled in, we went for a long walk around the town. It is a ski resort and mountain-climber’s town, with lots of lovely shops and restaurants and tons and tons of hotels. There is also a special graveyard for climbers who have perished on the Matterhorn. We walked up as far as we could to the bottom of the Matterhorn, and then down to a restaurant for dinner. We walked around some more after our meal and made our way back to the hotel for the night.
We woke to a lovely clear day and the Matterhorn looked spectacular from our bedroom balcony this morning. We again went for a walk as close as we could to the mountain, and took more photos, then returned to catch our train to Geneva. The train trip was very relaxing, and we noticed the landscape gradually change from steep and mountainous to gentler hills and valleys with mountains far in the background. There were terraces and terraces of grapevines growing everywhere, along with olives and asparagus. There were also cow pastures, and the cows wearing cowbells, which can be heard from miles away. We also saw pasture and agricultural fields that had been left untended which were overtaken by yellow, lilac, white and bright purple flowers. They looked very pretty, but I suspect that the plants might be weeds. Then the huge Lake Geneva came into view and our train followed the lake for a long time before weaving inland and back a few times. The southern shore of the lake is in France, taking in the Savoy Alps as well as Mont-Blanc, and the northern shore is in Switzerland.
Our first impression of Geneva was not positive. As we made our way from the train we were pushed and shoved by hurrying people with no manners - it was peak hour. It was very disconcerting after our experience of friendliness during the rest of our travels. We decided to spend the afternoon doing a lake cruise and it turned out to be relaxing, but not very informative. Geneva is home to the United Nations’ European Headquarters, the International Committee of the Red Cross and lots of high powered companies. We then just wandered around for a while and found a nice café on the lakeside for a drink. The weather was spectacular – beautiful blue skies, temperature in the high 20’s – so it was nice just to sit back and people-watch. We then continued our exploration of the city, eventually finding a nice restaurant for dinner.
The next morning we walked around the cobbled Geneva ‘old town’, which was impressive but unadorned compared with other places we have seen in Europe. It is surrounded by high, grey walls and at the heart of the old city is the huge Cathédrale St-Pierre. The tall, shuttered, grey-stone houses looked dour, although a few tried to add colour with window box flowers. We also found a lovely park along the far wall. We could not hang around too long, so we made our way back to pick up our bags for our train to Lyon.
Our train ride was fine, but a bit noisy. There was a group of men, probably a football team, on their way to Nice for the weekend, and they came equipped with food and alcohol and lots of noise, for their train journey. We passed through some industrial estates, but there were lots of open land, some of which was covered with red poppies – very pretty. Geneva was a nice place, but very expensive and we found its vibe to be one of function, not fun or frivolity.
After we had checked into our room in Lyon, we went and had a drink at a nice bar/café before embarking on a bus tour of the city. It is a very beautiful city, full of tourists and lots and lots of young people, perhaps because there are several universities in Lyon. Lyon is located at the join of the Rhône and the Saône Rivers and has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Lyon’s known history dates back to 43 BC, and it is now recognised as the gastronomy capital of the world. After our tour, we wandered the streets and lanes to find somewhere for dinner. This was a confusing experience for us non-French speakers and readers, as all the menus are in French and very few have English translations on them. With the help of a friendly waiter, we ordered our meals. Ian had frogs leg’s in garlic butter, and I had a taste. It tasted like garlic butter more than anything else. He then had a pork specialty dish which claimed to plate up every part of the pig. He ate it all and said it was delicious, but full of cholesterol. We then finished with dessert and cheese – very civilised.
The next morning we walked, and walked and walked! We wandered through the farmers’ market which seemed to go on and on, and the produce was lovely and fresh. There was fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, cheese, wine, bread, pastries and flowers. Some of it seemed weird to us, especially the plucked chickens with their feet still attached, and the plucked goose with its head still attached. It was a lovely clear day, around 26 degrees, and we had lunch at a lovely Saône riverside café before continuing our exploration of the town. We were particularly impressed with some wall murals depicting Lyon in the olden days. We went on a river cruise which gave us a look at Lyon from another perspective, and the commentary was informative. Later on we found another nice French restaurant, and another helpful waiter, and enjoyed another nice dinner. Lyon is a great city with a great buzz. It is full of happy people, great shops and restaurants, lots of statues and significant buildings and has a long and interesting history. Next stop – Paris.